Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I just came in from my tour of Encore with Steve Wynn and I much, much, much more on that later, once I sort out what won't fit in my Wynn profile slated to run on Monday, opening day, in a national publication. But I do have this intriguing bit of news to break: Wynn went in halfsies with the ELAD gang on the $150,000 cost to demolish the old Frontier sign in time for Monday's Encore opening. He also said he bought 200 trees from Nellis Air Force Base and is having them moved and planted in a line along the sidewalk in front of the empty lot where the Frontier used to be. Don't ask me why Nellis was having a tree sale, but I hope the guvmint got a good price. Wynn couldn't remember what he paid.
Why would he have to do all that? Well, Wynn is big on controlling what his guests can see, at least on the lower levels at the restaurants and such. That's what the 180-foot mountain outside the Wynn Las Vegas was all about. "A carnival is great," Wynn once told me, "but you only get to control your section of the midway." Burned in his memory remains a birthday party he once had at Picasso at Bellagio after the new Aladdin (now Planet Ho) was opened across the street. "That damn sign was blinking and blinking in the window and there wasn't a thing we could do about it," he told me in 2005.
But your question probably really was, "Why would he have to pay to remove the sign on someone else's land?" Well, he didn't say it in so many words, but clearly the Elad people are in no hurry to remove it or do much of anything on the land for which they paid $35 million from Phil Ruffin last year. They imploded the Frontier in November and spent gobs of money in court successfully defending their rights to use the Plaza name for the proposed $5 billion resort modeled after the Plaza New York which they own, but the project's timetable continues to be pushed back thanks to the lousy credit market.
So Wynn decided to take control and get 'er done. His hatred for the Frontier of old and anything associated with it is legendary; he famously once told me it was "the single biggest toilet in Las Vegas" and that having empty space across the street was better than that thing. Yet today he also found satisfaction and poetry in being the one to take it down since he was part of the group of owners of the property that first erected the sign as it looks now in 1967. Here's an extensive history of the sign from UNLV's Center for Gaming Research. "I put that sign up and I tore it down," Wynn chuckled today.
The sign, though, was not preserved for the Neon Museum. Wynn said it fell apart in the tear-down. That's sad.
That is so strangely tacky for the otherwise picture-perfect CityCenter folks. It's a beautiful, elegant building. Why does it need its name slapped on it? There had to be a more attractive way to do this.
[UPDATE: Since posting this, it's been noted that the Sun did this piece on the Frontier sign last week. I've checked, though; nobody's reported the dollar figures, the 200 trees or the part about the sign not going to the Neon Museum.]