After the recession clobbered Las Vegas, real estate investor Howard Bulloch still had big plans for the south Strip, landing approvals to build an amusement park and breaking ground on a 500-foot observation wheel across from Mandalay Bay.
“Every airplane that flies in and out of Vegas will fly past that wheel,” he said in spring 2012.
Months later, however, he stopped construction of the SkyVue wheel, which today consists of two towering, concrete columns sticking out of the ground and little else. SkyVue’s offices next door are locked, and orange cones block the entrance to the empty parking lot.
For the right price, though, someone can take Bulloch’s property off his hands.
Signs at SkyVue indicate the site is for sale, along with, apparently, several adjacent parcels. No price is given, but sources said Bulloch is seeking more than $10 million an acre, or more than $385 million, for his holdings there.
“Own the Strip,” the signs, with Bulloch’s name and contact information, say. “Or at least 38.5 acres of it!”
The sales effort could bring life to an abandoned, partially built tourist attraction that blights the south Strip, an area marked by vacant lots, boarded-up buildings and decades-old motels on one side of the street and megaresorts on the other.
That’s assuming Bulloch finds a buyer. Land values on the Strip have plunged from the boom years, and big properties there aren’t selling as often as they did last decade when easy money was sloshing around.
Bulloch’s property is the “best available” in the resort corridor, but for the price he wants, only a casino would make enough money for buyers to turn a profit — and that sort of development is limited these days, land broker Rick Hildreth said.
“It’s a great piece of property,” Hildreth, of Land Advisors Organization, said. “I just think its time is a long way off.”
Development in the south Strip likely will happen “at some point,” but for now, investors are largely concentrating on the north Strip, said real estate broker John Knott, an executive vice president with CBRE Group and head of its global gaming group.
Projects there include Genting Group’s $4 billion, 87-acre Resorts World Las Vegas, at the former Echelon site; the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's expansion, where the slated-to-be-demolished Riviera now stands; and Alon Las Vegas, a planned 34.6-acre resort, just north of Fashion Show mall, by Australian casino mogul James Packer and former Wynn Resorts executive Andrew Pascal.
“That’s where the focus of people’s attention seems to be,” Knott said of the north Strip.
Efforts to speak with Bulloch were unsuccessful Monday. Responding to an email that sought comment, he asked what questions the Sun had for him. He did not reply after the questions were sent.
Bulloch, who runs Las Vegas-based Compass Investments with partner David Gaffin, has owned property on the south Strip for years. And SkyVue wasn’t his only project that fizzled.
Around 2000, he and partners bought some roadside motels in the area, including the Glass Pool Inn, a '50s-era lodge known for its above-ground swimming pool with porthole-style windows. The property was featured in such movies as “Casino” and “Leaving Las Vegas.”
Bulloch’s group unveiled plans in 2001 for World Port Resorts, a 77-acre, London-themed casino development across from Mandalay Bay. Old motels in the area were demolished, but World Port was never built.
Bulloch tried to sell 38.5 acres of land — much of it vacant — across from the gleaming, gold-colored resort during the boom years. A marketing brochure called his holdings the “last large opportunity to be on the Las Vegas Strip.” The property, which included the future SkyVue site, didn't sell.
In 2011, Clark County commissioners approved his plan to build several amusement rides across from Mandalay Bay, along with convention and retail space.
Work crews poured the foundation for the 500-foot SkyVue wheel in 2012. The ride, designed to have 32 gondolas and a 50,000-square-foot LED sign in the wheel’s center, was scheduled to open in summer 2013.
But construction stalled in fall 2012 as Caesars Entertainment Corp. built its own observation wheel, the world’s tallest at 550 feet, a few miles north. Contractors also reportedly filed millions of dollars worth of liens against SkyVue, alleging unpaid invoices, but they later said they had been paid.
The west side of the south Strip has Mandalay, Luxor and other hotels. But the east side is a different story.
Properties there include SkyVue; vacant, dirt parcels; the decaying, boarded-up White Sands Motel, which sits behind a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire; the Laughing Jackalope, a shuttered tavern with graffiti and smashed signs; a small retail plaza; and the Diamond Inn Motel, with its distinctive pink elephant out front. Built in 1940, Diamond Inn was purchased in the late '70s by Sam Aldabbagh, who also owns the Can Can Room strip club.
Outside Diamond Inn, a sign boasts of “comfortable family lodging.” Inside, right near the check-in desk, a promotional sign for Can Can features two barely clad porn stars and promises the “best nude show in town.”