George Maloof cracks a stone-crab claw, surveying his empire at the N9ne Steakhouse inside the Palms Casino and laying out his vision for the new Las Vegas. For Maloofwhose hotel was made famous by one naughty season of MTV’s Real Worldthat vision will soon rise from a dirt lot behind his building: a 49-story blue glass tower with 599 condo units and prices approaching $1,000 a square foot. The building, which won’t even be livable until late 2007, is almost sold out. One Forbes billionaire (whom Maloof won’t name) has already bought up two of the penthouses and is having them tricked out with a bar made of crystal, a secret chamber, and a glass-walled pool. Even his lower-rent neighbors (Nick and Jessica; all-star pitcher Roger Clemens, to name a few) will have fireplaces and cabanas they can rent daily by the pool. And it’ll all be attached to the casino’s ceaseless bustle via an air-conditioned “skytube.”
“You know, I’ve been single my whole life, so I know how it works,” says Maloof, 40. “Sometimes people go out and try to meet each other, start giving each other the eye, and at some point, you need to go someplace. What’s the best gimmick in the world but to say, ‘You know what? Why don’t you come hang out at my place? It’s got a bar.’” Straight to the skytube, baby.
Developers like Maloof are betting billions of dollars on the “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” crowd, wagering that these playboys and -girls will want more than just a hotel room for their weekend antics. Some of the nation’s biggest players in real estatefrom Donald Trump to the Related Companies (responsible for the $1.8 billion Time Warner Center in Manhattan) to Miami’s high-rise new-money mogulsare creating a revolution in Vegas housing. Over the next several months, a Vegas-bloating 100 new projectstotaling 33,800 new condo unitswill be sprouting across the neon-soaked desert. The siren song of homeownership, smack in the middle of America’s very own Sodom, is everywhere on the Strip these days. Billboards. Sales offices. Sharply dressed brokers. Each pitch promises a taller, hipper, more opulent project. One sign cries: YOUR OWN PIECE OF THE STRIP. “I have never seen anything like this market,” says Bruce Hiatt, a local real-estate agent with fat new commission checks. Hiatt says there’s been so much buzz that some of his buyers have seen their units double in value, and the work-site port-a-potty hasn’t even been emptied yet: “I was saying, ‘No way could this happen in Vegas.’ But with the job growth and all the quality restaurants and entertainment coming in, it’s just becoming the perfect formula.”
Last year, Las Vegas was the hottest housing market in U.S. history. Home sales bounced 52 percent above the previous year. That’s more than triple the sizzle of the radioactive markets of New York and San Francisco. The unemployment rate stands at just 3.9 percentmore than a full point lower than the national averageand last year, the city gained 45,000 jobs. But much of the city’s growth has been clustered in townhouses. Developers are finding that formula a tougher sell. “If you want to buy a nice house out here, you’re looking at a 45-minute commute,” says Jeff Soffer, 37, principal developer at Miami-based Turnberry Associates-, which has about $3 billion of condo projects planned for Las Vegas. “Not everybody wants that kind of headache.”