The Nevada Independent

Your state. Your news. Your voice.

The Nevada Independent

‘Built for 2023, not 2009;’ Fontainebleau hopes to make high-end presence on North Strip

The unfinished hotel-casino sat untouched for more than a decade until the original developer bought back the resort.
Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz

As he walked through the $3.7 billion Fontainebleau Las Vegas five days before its planned opening, developer Jeffrey Soffer stopped in front of one of the casino’s nearly 130 table games to show off a cushioned chair still in its protective plastic wrapping.

“We had all of these chairs custom-made,” Soffer said of the hundreds of seats that will populate the 150,000-square-foot casino on the north end of the Strip. In numerous places along the tour, Soffer pointed out unique features and locations still receiving finishing touches ahead of Wednesday’s unveiling at 11:59 p.m.

Soffer is attempting to set a high bar for the Fontainebleau, which began construction 16 years ago only to see development halted in 2009 when the recession dried up financing and the project sold in foreclosure after it was 70 percent complete.

“This is a totally different departure from the higher end [with] much more upscale finishes. It’s built for 2023, not 2009,” Soffer said. Much of the building's original plans have been torn up — for example, the retail space takes up roughly a third of the original design, leaving more room for restaurants and other amenities. 

“All the touch points have been considered,” Soffer said. “My views changed, but we believe this is the right approach. My partners and I wanted to make the nicest place in Las Vegas. We’re offering something that we don’t think is here.”

Sixteen years ago, the Fontainebleau was considered the linchpin in reinvigorating the Strip’s northern end, a roughly 1-mile stretch seemingly left behind during two decades of development along Las Vegas Boulevard that began with The Mirage’s 1989 opening and led to the construction of 16 new hotel-casinos and the demise of more than a dozen older resorts.

The 67-story Fontainebleau is the latest puzzle piece to the Strip’s north end that has seen new ownership groups revitalize the neighboring Sahara and Circus Circus, the opening of the $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas in 2021, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority opened the $1 billion West Hall, a 1.4 million-square-foot expansion of its convention center, that same year.

"It’s a different dynamic than it was when development stopped,” said casino industry adviser Brendan Bussmann, managing partner of Las Vegas-based B Global. “The North Strip looks a lot different than when Fontainebleau initially broke ground.”

Resorts World was known as Echelon when construction halted on that project in 2008. It was sold in 2013 but didn’t restart construction until almost four years later. 

“This is the last of the projects that stopped during the Great Recession. Along with the Convention Center West, it may also be the answer that helps connect Wynn [Las Vegas] with the Sahara,” Bussmann said.

Truist Securities gaming analyst Barry Jonas said Strip resort operators are watching the opening of the Fontainebleau with curiosity. Like Resorts World, which is owned by Malaysia-based Genting Berhad, the resort is a stand-alone property with a new set of high-end amenities.

Jonas said Fontainebleau could benefit from its proximity to the convention center.

“Most operators we speak with don’t seem overly concerned just yet,” Jonas said in an email. “The new property comes with a more limited player database and represents a relatively small increase in hotel supply across the market.”

He said parallels are being drawn with Resorts World, “which has yet to alter the competitive landscape or generate a sizable return on investment.”

Changing the amenities

A Florida-based developer and businessman whose company owns the original Fontainebleau resort in Miami Beach, Soffer had more than a decade to think about what to do with the Strip’s tallest building if he was ever able to get it back. He first acquired the Strip site in 2005 and hired former Mandalay Resort Group President Glenn Schaeffer to oversee the operation.

He told The Nevada Independent he had given up on the idea. Corporate raider Carl Ichan bought the Fontainebleau out of foreclosure for $150 million in 2009, stripped the building bare and sold it in 2017 for $600 million to New York developer Steven Witkoff, whose plans to rebrand and develop the property as Drew Las Vegas fell apart during the pandemic. 

Soffer, 55, saw an opportunity to reacquire the property in partnership with Koch Real Estate Investments in February 2021 and began a redesign, scrapping the original interior plans for the 24.5-acre location, a footprint much smaller than most Strip developments. The project secured $2.2 billion in construction financing in December 2022.

Developers reduced the building’s room capacity by almost 300 units, which allowed the luxury and penthouse suites to be expanded to between 5,000 and 10,000 square feet. 

Fontainebleau will fit 3,644 rooms and suites on 60 floors of the tower, along with 36 restaurants and bars, 550,000 square feet of convention space atop the parking garage, 90,000 square feet of retail with 35 shops, a 6-acre elevated pool deck with seven pools and a 55,000-square-foot spa along with a 14,000-square-foot fitness center.

The property’s 3,800-seat BleauLive Theater will feature a New Year’s performance from Grammy Award-nominated singer Post Malone.

Unlike Resorts World Las Vegas, which struck a partnership with Hilton Hotels Corp. to place its 3,500 rooms into the company’s reservation system through a franchise agreement, Soffer said Fontainebleau chose to go at it alone.

He shook off any concerns about the lack of a gaming-centric customer database — saying the Fontainebleau Miami, which has 1,600 hotel rooms, is the largest hotel on the East Coast south of Atlantic City and has a large database of regular visitors to draw upon.

The bulk of Fontainebleau’s revenue stream, he said, will come from the non-gaming side, which includes restaurants, hotel rooms, convention bookings, retail leasing and other property amenities. 

“We believe we will have the highest room rates on the Strip,” Soffer said. Room rates for the smallest room this week start at $460 per night and go as high as $600 a night during the Consumer Electronic Show in the second week of January.

Fontainebleau rooms for Super Bowl weekend on Feb. 9-11 range from $1,400 to $1,700 a night.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said Las Vegas saw an average daily hotel room rate of more than $233 in October, a single-month record. Resort officials expect the mark to be broken when November’s figures are released, which includes rooms booked during the Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix weekend.

Added touches

Soffer said he isn’t ignoring the casino. Fontainebleau will have 1,300 slot machines to go with the nearly 130 table games, as well as a 14,000-square-foot race and sportsbook that it will operate with technology and odds-making assistance provided by Red Rock Resorts’ STN Sportsbook. 

During a suitability hearing at the Gaming Control Board in July, Fontainebleau Development President Brett Mufson said the casino will include more than 18,000 square feet of high-limit gaming spaces, including a slot area with 105 games and a private gaming salon with three table games: blackjack, baccarat and European roulette.

Soffer is also proud of the fine art collection that will be featured throughout the property in partnership with Swiss-born artist Urs Fischer. One piece, “Oceans,” is the focal point of the Fontainebleau’s southwest entrance off the Strip.

“What we’re doing is pretty unheard of,” Soffer said. “Obviously, the structure being up was a huge advantage. We want people to walk in here and have that ‘big wow factor.’ I’ve upgraded great assets before and we see this project as a huge opportunity.”

An added touch for the opening is a fleet of Rolls Royce Phantoms that Fontainebleau has brought on to transport high rollers to and from the property.

Not every part of the Fontainebleau is opening this week. Fifteen restaurants and bars will open during the next few months, including two outdoor restaurants on the pool deck, which opens in the spring. The pool area will include a 2,300-square-foot gaming area. 

LIV Las Vegas, Fontainebleau’s nightclub, opens Thursday, but Soffer is keeping plans for the property's rooftop entertainment venue under wraps for now.

Interest is high 

For more than a decade until Soffer regained control, Las Vegans either viewed the unfinished Fontainebleau as an enigma or a curiosity. 

Former Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, during her time in office, put various requirements in place, such as fencing and other cover-up measures when Ichan was the owner to keep the building from becoming an eyesore.

County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, who represents the same area, said, “I've had a lot of friends and people reach out to see if there were tickets to the grand opening. I've never had that happen before with the project. The interest from the community is very high.”

Bussmann said Soffer followed an unusual path to opening the Fontainebleau almost 14 years after losing control of the project.

“It’s an interesting journey that has come full circle for Mr. Soffer,” Bussmann said. “He started with a vision that is finally going to be realized this week after losing out on the property during the 2010s. Not many developers get to do what he will accomplish.”


Featured Videos

7455 Arroyo Crossing Pkwy Suite 220 Las Vegas, NV 89113
Privacy PolicyRSSContactNewslettersSupport our Work
The Nevada Independent is a project of: Nevada News Bureau, Inc. | Federal Tax ID 27-3192716