Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Fontainebleau For Sale - Who Will Buy?

The Wall Street Journal reported today that Carl Icahn is looking to sell the Fontainebleau. The property will be listed by CBRE for $650 million.

I immediately starting thinking about who might be a candidate to buy and finish the stalled Fontainebleau project. I'm going to spend the rest of this blog post speculating about which companies might be in the mix.

MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment are the two largest Las Vegas hotel/casino companies but neither of them are really looking to expand in Vegas at the moment. Plus MGM will be completing a REIT conversion soon, and Caesars is going through a partial bankruptcy. I don't see either of these giants buying Fontainebleau.

Wynn Resorts boss Steve Wynn has long said he doesn't want to build in Las Vegas again. His frustration with the Macau government and endless headaches getting his Boston project off the ground might have him singing a different tune though. The rub: Wynn likes to build from scratch and the Fontainebleau structure might not be a blank enough slate for architect DeRuyter Butler and designer Roger Thomas to work their magic.

Like Wynn, Las Vegas Sands and Sheldon Adelson have shown a lack of interest in building anything new in Vegas. I actually think the Fontainebleau would be a great fit though. LVS has deep pockets so finishing the resort wouldn't be a problem, and the location near the planned convention center expansion would fit right in with their convention heavy business model. The best part: They could call the property Sands Hotel and Casino resurrecting an iconic Las Vegas brand.

Speaking of iconic properties: Boyd Gaming has been looking to get back on the Strip ever since they demolished The Stardust and failed to replace it with Echelon Place, later selling the property. While I would be in favor of Boyd buying Fontainebleau and renaming it The Stardust (or Borgata Las Vegas perhaps?) it seems unlikely they would undertake such a large project so shortly after abandoning Echelon.

Penn National was seriously considering purchasing Fontainebleau before ultimately losing out to Carl Icahn. Since then they have entered the Las Vegas market with purchases of M Resort and later Tropicana. If Penn was unwilling to spend $150 million to buy Fontainebleau in 2010 I'm guessing they don't want to spend $650 million in 2015.

Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin was in the news earlier this week as it was reported he made a recent $1.3 billion failed bid to buy The Mirage. If Ruffin has that much cash to spend could he possibly want to buy the Fontainebleau? It seems like a real possibility to me.

Other regional operators like Eldorado Resorts, Golden Entertainment, Full House Resorts, and Pinnacle Entertainment are likely eager to get into the Las Vegas market but probably don't have the money to make a deal like Fontainebleau happen. Could one of these companies partner up with a rich benefactor like Ruffin to get it done?

Lastly and perhaps most likely to buy Fontainebleau are private equity real estate companies. Cosmopolitan parent company Blackstone might be a possibility if they are looking to expand their casino holdings. Once rumored Mirage buyer Starwood Capital might also be looking to buy.