North Strip busi­ness own­ers see rea­son to dream

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Todd Prince

Some­day, Sam Mas­saro will look out from his store counter and see the Strip’s new­est lux­ury casino reach­ing high into the sky.

If all goes as pre­dicted, he won’t have much time to gaze at Re­sorts World Las Ve­gas’ China-in­spired architecture and lights.

He will be too busy book­ing guests from the 3,000-room casino — or nearby bustling ho­tels — on trips to the Grand Canyon.

But un­til that mag­i­cal day ar­rives in a few years, Mas­saro and col­leagues at Las Ve­gas Tick­ets and Tours will con­tinue to stare at a con­crete car­cass that sym­bol­izes the eco­nomic stag­na­tion of the Strip’s north end and their frus­tra­tion.

“We would make a killing if that was open,’’ said Mas­saro,

61, about the slabs of gray con­crete and re­bar that rise from the lot di­rectly op­po­site his store at 3001 Las Ve­gas Blvd. South.

Mas­saro and other store own­ers on the north end say they are up­beat that de­vel­op­ment seems to be on the hori­zon for this de­serted neigh­bor­hood.

Re­sorts World restarted its pro­ject in July, and a New York de­vel­oper bought the aban­doned Fon­tainebleau pro­ject in Au­gust.

But shop own­ers’ en­thu­si­asm is tem­pered by the slow pace and knowl­edge that it will take years be­fore doors open and crowds ap­pear. Fon­tainebleau’s new owner has yet to give a time frame for com­ple­tion. Re­sorts World is tar­get­ing an open­ing in 2020.

“It is def­i­nitely not fast enough,’’ said Mas­saro, with a thick New York ac­cent, of the Re­sorts World pro­ject. His part­ner says he is will­ing to wa­ger it will take longer, point­ing out there is only one crane and a few dozen peo­ple at the 87-acre site.

For the time be­ing, the Re­sorts World pro­ject and the stalled Fon­tainebleau act like pow­er­ful hu­man re­pel­lent sprays, keep­ing the tourists away from Mas­saro’s store and many other north end busi­nesses at all times of day.

A short walk along Las Ve­gas Boule­vard shows how pro­found the dif­fer­ence is.

Over a 10-minute span on an early Tues­day evening, just 49 peo­ple passed by Mas­saro’s store, which is sand­wiched be­tween a Denny’s and a 7-Eleven.

A half-mile south, sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple crossed the foot­bridge be­tween Palazzo and Wynn Las Ve­gas over the same time.

Trickle-down ef­fect

Sit­ting in their nar­row, cramped store at 2303 Las Ve­gas Blvd. South filled with sou­venirs such as T-shirts and bags, sis­ters Carol and Anna Rayos wait for cus­tomers to pop in on a late Tues­day af­ter­noon.

The sis­ters, who work seven days a week, have seen the rise and fall of the north end of the Strip over the decades, putting their for­tunes on a bit of a roller coaster ride.

They hope to see it rise once more so they can com­fort­ably re­tire in five years time, Anna Rayos said.

In­ter­na­tional Bou­tique was founded by their par­ents in 1976 and drew a good crowd from the for­mer Sa­hara across Sa­hara Av­enue.

The past 10 years have been tough, es­pe­cially when the Sa­hara closed for a makeover in 2011. The bus stop for the Sa­hara is lo­cated right out­side their door.

“When the Sa­hara closed, peo­ple had no pur­pose to get off at the bus stop,’’ Anna Rayos said.

The growth in tourism over the past few years is trick­ling down to this end, but it’s fee­ble, the sis­ters said.

The Sa­hara re­opened in 2014 as the SLS Las Ve­gas, but it never at­tracted the crowds. The Riviera, which also fed some clients to Bou­tique In­ter­na­tional, closed in 2015.

“Busi­ness is start­ing to pick up a lit­tle bit, but not as much as we would like,’’ Anna Rayos said.

Rent spike

When the doors of the Fon­tainebleau and Re­sorts World even­tu­ally open, it won’t just be sales at In­ter­na­tional Bou­tique and Tick­ets and Tours that go up.

Prop­erty val­ues and rents will cer­tainly rise, and that cre­ates some un­cer­tainty for own­ers.

“I am ex­cited for our busi­ness but ner­vous that our own­ers might want to sell the prop­erty,’’ Anna Rayos said.

Sam Singh and son Man­preet will soon open a 45-seat In­dian restau­rant, Masala, on the north end, their sixth lo­ca­tion in Las Ve­gas.

Their de­ci­sion to choose the lo­ca­tion was not driven by hopes for rede­vel­op­ment. That, rather, is a bonus. Their aim is to cap­ture the In­dian crowd that stays at Cir­cus Cir­cus.

But they are aware that the open­ing of the Fon­tainebleau and Re­sorts World might drive the prop­erty owner to re­de­velop the site at a later date and in­cor­po­rated that is­sue into their 10-year lease agree­ment, the elder Singh said.

Joni Mitchell lyrics

Mas­saro isn’t wor­ried about rents go­ing up. He said the in­creased rev­enue from tourists will more than com­pen­sate for that.

His op­ti­mism about the north end isn’t un­founded. Mas­saro pre­vi­ously owned two trail­ers out­side the Riviera that housed his two busi­nesses as well as four other stores.

Busi­nesses, he said, thrived un­til the Riviera was knocked down and turned into a park­ing lot. The cus­tomers dis­ap­peared and his renters closed up, cost­ing him $150,000 in lost busi­ness.

The lyrics of song­writer Joni Mitchell had be­come his re­al­ity, he said.

“They paved par­adise and put up a park­ing lot.”

Now, he is hop­ing the Fon­tainebleau or Re­sorts World will be­come his new par­adise.

Chase Stevens Las Ve­gas Re­view-Journal @cssteven­sphoto

Store own­ers on the north end of the Strip are op­ti­mistic about pos­si­ble de­vel­op­ment but know they will have to be pa­tient.

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