10/26/2006 11:00PM

Strip becoming a real-life board game


When I was young, my sister used to force me to play Monopoly. We would pretend to be big-time real estate moguls and jockey for the elusive Park Place/Boardwalk blue squares. Then we would buy hotels and wait until the other landed on the space to break them.

Today, a real-life version of Monopoly seems to be playing out in Las Vegas. Ever since Steve Wynn built the Mirage in 1988, the mega-mergers, acquisitions, and new construction have been almost constant - today more than ever.

Harrah's Entertainment recently bought the Barbary Coast, the final piece in a stretch of Harrah's-owned properties on the east side of the Strip near the intersection of Flamingo Road that includes Harrah's, the Flamingo, the Imperial Palace, Bally's, and Paris Las Vegas. Harrah's, the largest gaming company in the world, also occupies the west side of that intersection with Caesars Palace, then, skipping over I-15 west, Harrah's owns the Rio. At a reported $85 million an acre, the Barbary Coast was one expensive acquisition.

MGM Mirage boasts a portfolio of 10 Strip-front megaresorts, stretching from Mandalay Bay and going north to Treasure Island and on to Circus Circus. Included in that stretch are properties at three of the four corners at Tropicana Avenue and the Strip: New York New York, Excalibur, and the flagship property of MGM Grand.

MGM Mirage is building the most expensive privately funded project ever in Nevada. Called Project City Center, it will encompass several city blocks of high-rise hotels, condominiums, entertainment venues, and restaurants between the company's Monte Carlo and Bellagio resorts along the Strip. The $8 billion venture has already started to sprout from its foundations, and reservations for the first-phase condos are starting to be filled - including for the top floor penthouse at $8 million.

Others waiting their turn to build on the Monopoly board include: A Vegas version of the Fontainebleau, headed by former Mandalay Resort Group president Glenn Schaeffer; Echelon Place, a billion-dollar Boyd Gaming project that will replace the historic Stardust (to be imploded shortly after it closes on Nov. 1); Cosmopolitan, an upscale condominium tower that will be nestled at the Strip corner of City Center; Trump International, which is the Donald's entry into Las Vegas, featuring two towers of high-end condominiums; Palazzo, sitting alongside its sister the Venetian; Encore, the next phase of Wynn's master-planned Wynn Las Vegas; Palms Place, the off-Strip hip condo project at the Palms; and the W Hotel, just off the Strip on Harmon Avenue in the shadow of the new Planet Hollywood. All these projects that will have price tags in the billions.

Although the Las Vegas Boulevard board has almost filled, the anticipation of further high-rise condominium towers, the expected mega-project at the New Frontier location, and the noticeably vacant acreage at the corner of Sahara Avenue at the Strip are still in play, as is the Sahara hotel casino property itself.

Unlike the board game, the Strip can expand - and it has. The Strip now spans 16 miles north to south, with the newest hotel casino to the far south named the South Point. Notice it isn't called the End Point.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.