Bloomberg — Real estate mogul Jeffrey Soffer has waited 23 years for this moment.
On Dec. 13, the Florida-based developer will open Las Vegas’ newest resort, a $3.7 billion palace with seven pools, 36 restaurants and bars, as well as a private club on the top floor with spectacular views of the skyline.
What really stands out about the Fontainebleau Las Vegas isn’t the height — at 67 stories it’s the tallest hotel in Nevada — or the 46-foot sculpture by Swiss artist Urs Fischer in the south lobby. It’s how long it took to get built. Soffer acquired the land in 2000, but lost control of the mostly done project during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Two more owners came and went, including billionaire Carl Icahn, before Soffer reacquired the still unfinished building in 2021 for a fraction of its original construction cost.
“It’s one of the great, crazy stories in real estate,” the 55-year old said as he walked the property on a recent afternoon. “There’s always one crazy one in your career. This is definitely it.”
Soffer said he just believed strongly in the concept, bringing a version of his family’s Fontainebleau resort in Miami Beach to America’s gambling capital. The Florida hotel has been a playground for the rich and famous since opening in 1954. Designed by architect Morris Lapidus, the beachfront property is most notable for its expansive pool area, where James Bond played cards against villain Auric Goldfinger in the 1964 film Goldfinger. Soffer said the Miami Beach resort is one of the most-profitable, non-casino hotels in the country.
Like its Florida namesake, the Fontainebleau Las Vegas will feature bowtie-shaped accents, from the columns in the lobby to the brass drawer pulls in the rooms. (Lapidus was a fan of the neckwear). Soffer is importing his successful LIV nightclub brand to the Las Vegas property. The resort’s blue and coral pink color scheme evokes its Miami Beach sibling. So does the French midcentury modern-styled furniture in the rooms.
Soffer plans to tap his database of Miami Beach guests to help kickstart the Nevada property.
“We have a lot of customers that go to both places,” he said. “You sit on the beach in Miami Beach and you see planes flying banners for Las Vegas.”
Soffer, who was previously married to supermodel Elle MacPherson and counts football great Tom Brady as a neighbor and friend, will likely enlist some of his celebrity chums for the opening.
“All the successful properties, there’s a charismatic person at the head,” said Howard Karawan, who worked with Soffer on his first attempt at opening the resort. “Jeff is certainly that, and he has a great circle of friends.”
Soffer’s biggest challenge will likely be the Fontainebleau’s location on the north end of the city’s famous Strip, far from properties like the Bellagio and Caesars Palace, where guests can more easily stroll from one to the other. Casinos at the north end, like the Stratosphere and the SLS, now back with its original Sahara name, have at times run into financial trouble.
“We believe major investment, like the renovations we have completed at the Strat, and new properties will create more density and traffic over time to the north Strip,’’ said Charles Protell, president of Golden Entertainment, which owns the Stratosphere.
The Strip’s last big opening, Genting Group’s $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas in 2021, sits almost across the street from the Fontainebleau. It recently offered midweek room rates as low as $99 a night, even as total visitor traffic to Las Vegas has risen to nearly pre-pandemic levels. Fontainebleau plans to have rates at its 3,644 rooms start at $300 a night.
The Fontainebleau will be one of the closest hotels to the city’s convention center, which should keep it busy with business guests on weekdays, Soffer said. The resort is built on a relatively small footprint by Las Vegas standards, less than 25 acres. Guests can access most of the property through a central bank of elevators. Soffer said his loyal, and wealthy, customers aren’t interested in hoofing it from one casino to another anyway.
“Money doesn’t walk,” he said.
Soffer’s father Donald, now 90, started the family real estate empire, ultimately turning swampland north of Miami into Aventura, a high-end community. After his family bought the Miami Beach Fontainebleau hotel in 2005, Soffer began work on the Las Vegas version.
The original plan included selling condominiums, something his family had already done in Florida and Nevada. But buyer interest evaporated in 2009. With over $2.2 billion invested and the resort about 70% finished, Soffer’s banks pulled their financing. The Fontainebleau Las Vegas declared bankruptcy. Icahn, who lives three doors down from Soffer in Florida, bought it for $156.1 million and then sold off the furnishings. At one point, the empty building was used to train firefighters.”I wish him luck,” Icahn said in an interview.
New York developer Steven Witkoff acquired the property from Icahn for $600 million, with plans to open a resort called Drew Las Vegas. His plans fizzled during the Covid pandemic. Soffer said he reclaimed the project for less than the previous sale price, but declined to say how much. His partner is the real estate arm of Koch Industries. Financing from a consortium led by JPMorgan Chase (JPM) totals $2.2 billion.
Soffer said it would cost cost billions of dollars more if he were starting from scratch.
“So why not just spend all the right money and make it the most luxurious place that Vegas has?” he said.
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