Once left behind, north end of Las Vegas Strip humming along with development

Miranda Alam/Special to the Sun

Construction continues on the expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019.

For the past three decades, Leon Boghossian has visited Las Vegas about twice a year.

The Rhode Island resident has seen many changes to the city during that time, but is particularly impressed with what’s happening now at the north end of the Strip.

“There’s a lot going on in this area,” said Boghossian, walking north on Las Vegas Boulevard near Resorts World Drive. “The changes, in my opinion, have been all positive. It’s really great to see.”

As he talked, construction sounds could be heard to the west as workers labored on the $4 billion, 59-story Resorts World Las Vegas project, which is being built on the site formerly occupied by the Stardust.

To the east, Boghossian could see work being done on a $935 million expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center. The project, which will also feature a renovation of the existing space, will cost $1.5 billion and be complete in early 2021.

A short walk to the north of where Boghossian stood sits Circus Circus, the family-themed former MGM Resorts International property that is in the process of being sold to Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin for $825 million.

Ruffin plans for improvements to the Circus Circus campus, which could include the sale or leasing of the adjacent 37-acre festival grounds on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue that was part of the purchase.

Ruffin called it a “hot piece of ground” and hinted at some type of entertainment development.

“It could be a billion-dollar deal,” Ruffin said. “We’re working on it. (The Circus Circus deal) is not only a land play, but it has cash flow on top. It’s the best of both worlds. This is a great investment for me.”

“It used to be that you didn’t want to walk much farther north than where I am now,” Boghossian said. “That’s changed. You see a lot more families around now, too. I think the city and developers are doing a great job here.”

In a city where projects have to sometimes vie for attention, Las Vegas seems worlds away from the recession that gripped it and the nation in 2008 and 2009.

“A decade ago, the north end of Las Vegas Boulevard was a beacon of possibility for casino developers,” said Scott Sibella, president of Resorts World Las Vegas. “Today, the revitalization of this area is undeniably on the rise and steadily moving forward with billions of dollars in recent resort and attraction development.”

While the 88-acre Resorts World project and the 200-plus-acre convention center site project — complete with the planned construction of a futuristic underground people-mover transport system — grab the attention of the Strip passersby right away, there are other things happening in the area, too.

Construction is scheduled to begin next year on Majestic Las Vegas, which will be a 620-foot-tall luxury resort two blocks east of the Strip, just across from the convention center buildout on Convention Center Drive. That $850 million nongaming project, according to developer Lorenzo Doumani, is scheduled to be finished in 2023.

A Las Vegas native — his father, Edward, was an early business partner of Steve Wynn — Doumani said he remembers the days when the area was the place to be along the Strip.

“With the Stardust and Riviera and La Concha and El Morocco, the Thunderbird, the El Rancho — that area used to be as nice as anything,” Doumani said. “Over the years, everything shifted south. The north end of the Strip, really, used to be the center of the Strip, but things got neglected over time.”

Real estate and investment firm Witkoff is in the process of redeveloping the Drew, which was formerly the Fontainebleau, across from Circus Circus. That resort — its opening is planned for 2022 — will feature nearly 3,800 hotel rooms and will be 67 stories tall.

Witkoff recently hired gaming industry veteran Bobby Baldwin, a former MGM executive, as CEO of the Drew.

Doumani said he figured another north Strip golden age would come along sooner or later.

“The convention center is the hub, so the area around it had to come back,” Doumani said. “It just took maybe a little longer than I expected. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that it would come back. In 10 years, the north end of the Strip will be the newer end. It’s funny how things work.”

After all, whether it’s Allegiant Stadium (future home of the NFL’s Raiders and UNLV football), the under-construction Circa Resort in downtown, or the MSG Sphere (just a few blocks south of the convention center), Las Vegas is a city that is constantly evolving, Doumani said.

“It’s a unique place — it’s unlike any place in the world,” Doumani said. “The north part of the Strip did get run down over time, but it’s exciting to see everything that’s happening now.”