LAS VEGAS – The New Frontier casino-hotel was imploded early Tuesday, giving a violent end to the second property to open on the Las Vegas Strip.
The 16-story hotel tower was felled with over 1,000 pounds of explosives before a group of reporters and bystanders to make way for a multibillion-dollar resort bearing The Plaza brand, which is set to open in 2011.
Elad Group owner and Israeli billionaire Yitzhak Tshuva, who is partnering to build an $8 billion megaresort where the New Frontier stood, shook hands and gave hugs after the tower went down.
An easterly breeze helped to quickly dissipate the dust.
The New Frontier earned historical notations by becoming the Strip's first theme casino and hosting Elvis Presley's debut in the city.
The low-key gambling hall, which opened as the Last Frontier in 1942 with a cowboy village theme and later embraced the space age before returning to its Wild West roots, had become known for bikini bull riding, cheap hotel rooms and $5 craps before it closed its doors for good in July.
IDB Group and Elad Group, the owner of The Plaza hotel in New York, said the new property will include a luxury hotel with about 3,500 rooms, private residences, retail space and a casino bearing The Plaza brand, all set to reach for the highest end of the market.
"Let me promise to all of you today that we will build in this beautiful city one of the most magnificent hotels in the world," Tshuva told a gathering ahead of the implosion. "I think that there should be no price tag for a place with such enormous potential."
The destruction of the New Frontier was the latest step in a dramatic, and expensive, facelift for the northern Strip. The Stardust hotel-casino was imploded in March.
"It's another budget option on the Strip that's gone," said David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "The future is really high-end."
Billionaire Steve Wynn said recently that he had noticed fewer 25-cent slot players wandering into his lavish Wynn Las Vegas resort. "That's because the Frontier and the Stardust are closed," he said.
The first of Donald Trump's gold-glass, billion-dollar-plus condominium towers is set to open behind the New Frontier site early next year. Wynn plans to open the $2.2 billion Encore in early 2009, and the $2.8 billion Fontainebleau is scheduled to open farther north later that year.
MGM Mirage Inc. is planning its own multibillion-dollar goliath with Kerzner International and Dubai World at the north end of the Strip for 2012.
The transformation has made land prices soar and elevated the northern Strip's importance.
"It just became an epicenter of Vegas," said Phil Ruffin, who sold the 34.5-acre site to Elad for $1.24 billion in May.
The Last Frontier was the second hotel-casino to open on the Strip, and over its 65 years it played host to such entertainers as Ronald Reagan, Wayne Newton and Siegfried & Roy. Presley performed for the first time in Las Vegas at the resort in 1956. Billionaire Howard Hughes once owned it, and Wynn's purchase of a minority stake in the 1960s in exchange for heading up the slot and keno departments sparked his career as a casino magnate.