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LAS VEGAS-Officials of Aztar Corp., the Phoenix-based owner of the Tropicana Casino resort here, said late Wednesday that they expect the merger with the gaming affiliate of Fort Mitchell, KY-based Columbia Sussex Corp. to close in early January 2007. The deal was first announced in May.The merger agreement calls for Columbia Entertainment to pay a base price of $54 per share for all of the outstanding shares of Aztar’s common stock, which totals about 36.49 million shares. Once completed, Aztar and its $675 million of long-term debt will become a wholly-owned indirect subsidiary of Columbia Entertainment. The total deal value is estimated at about $2.65 billion.

Per the agreement, the per-share price has been on the rise by just under a penny a day since Nov. 20. If the deal closes in mid-January, the price will have increased by approximately $0.50 per share, which translates to about $18 million.

Aztar’s prize possessions are its Tropicana resorts in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. The 34-acre Tropicana resort in Las Vegas is viewed as one of the last big redevelopment opportunities on the Strip. The property is located at Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue. The aging resort is surrounded by the MGM Grand, Excalibur, Luxor, Monte Carlo and New York-New York mega-resorts.

In its most recent annual report, Aztar said it planned to raze the Tropicana, develop a billion-dollar resort on the north half of the site and sell the remainder into a joint venture. As tentatively envisioned, the north site would hold 2,725 hotel rooms and suites; 200,000 sf of dining, entertainment and retail facilities; a 100,000-sf casino; a 3,800-car parking garage; and a four-acre rooftop pool recreation deck overlooking the Strip.

Columbia Sussex president William Yung has said the company has no intentions of tearing down the Tropicana any time soon, in part because it fills a key mid-market niche that is being eaten away by redevelopment. The more likely scenario will be an addition to the property that could require partial demolition of one or two existing structures.

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