New Hotel On Las Vegas Strip Could Be Imploded

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The down economy has hit Las Vegas especially hard. Now, there's a proposal to implode a new — but never used — hotel tower on the Las Vegas Strip. Renee Montagne talks with Oskar Garcia, the Las Vegas reporter for the Associated Press, about the Harmon Tower and the state of the Strip.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Though Las Vegas was hit especially hard by the housing market crash and the recession, its luck has changed a bit over the last year with gains in both visitor rates and gaining revenue.

But the city of good times and gambling still has an unemployment rate of 14 percent, and it suffers from a basic problem - too many hotel rooms and not enough visitors to fill them.

To this landscape comes the news that MGM Resorts International proposes to implode a never-used hotel tower on the Las Vegas strip.

Oskar Garcia is covering the story as the Las Vegas reporter for the Associated Press. Good morning.

Mr. OSKAR GARCIA (Associated Press): Good morning. Thanks for having me.

MONTAGNE: So tell us about this building. It's part of a new complex that opened just a couple of years ago.

Mr. GARCIA: Yeah. It's of the $8.5 billion City Center complex. It was meant to be a boutique hotel, boutique in Las Vegas meaning a few hundred rooms, and it was hailed at the time by its owners as the thing that was going to bring Las Vegas back.

The Harmon Tower is a stylish blue oval cylinder. It kind of looks like a glass of water, and it's really right in the heart of the Las Vegas strip.

MONTAGNE: And it's been plagued with problems almost from the beginning.

Mr. GARCIA: Exactly. This Harmon was supposed to open in 2009, along with the rest of the development. But the first thing that happened was it had problems with the reinforcing steel. So they shortened the tower from 49 stories to 26 stories, got rid of a bunch of condominiums that were supposed to be at the top, and lately they've been saying that the building wouldn't hold up in an earthquake.

And so MGM and the other owner, Dubai World, are saying that they want to implode the building.

MONTAGNE: So this building with no apparent future there in Las Vegas, even though it's brand spanking new - how would they go about imploding a building like this, given that it's on a busy part of the strip? You've talked with demolition experts. What did they say?

Mr. GARCIA: I have, and they say that it can be done. The demolition experts I talked to basically said that the more explosives that you put in it, the more floors that you take out from under it, the easier it'll be to drop straight down.

What they're telling me is that the gamblers who are gambling in the Cosmopolitan next door won't even have to get up from their slot machines or tables when this thing goes down. In fact, I bet you would see people buy some of the hotel rooms next door just to watch it explode.

You're gonna have some dust on the strip, but that can be cleaned up in a matter of an hour, and they could do it if they want at a not-so-busy time.

MONTAGNE: All of which sounds obviously quite amazing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GARCIA: Right. I mean, well, implosions are something that Las Vegas is used to. A lot of people around here say Las Vegas is known for imploding its history. They've had demolitions here before. You've had the Sands, you've had the Hacienda, a number of old hotels. Basically everything that's been demolished to make way for the things that are new.

This one is interesting, not only because of its location and proximity to the strip, but the fact that it was supposed to be a hotel that was going to open in 2009. This is not an old building that's a blight. This is something that was supposed to be fresh.

MONTAGNE: A few things have to happen for the demolition to actually go through. There's an approval process, but also, I gather, a lawsuit?

Mr. GARCIA: Yes. There is a couple things happening in parallel with one another. First, the owners have to meet with the county, and the county has requested a meeting. It just requested the meeting this week with MGM Resorts and Dubai World to talk about how they came up with implosion as being the best option.

But there's also a lawsuit between the main contractor and City Center's owners over unpaid bills, and a judge in that order has said, hey, don't do anything with the building until we resolve this issue.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much for joining us.

Mr. GARCIA: No problem. Thanks for having me on the program.

MONTAGNE: Oskar Garcia is the Las Vegas reporter for the Associated Press.

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