LAS VEGAS-Christopher Milam recently paid $40 million to maintain his option to acquire 27 acres fronting the Las Vegas Strip. The Texas developer, who is planning a $5-billion development for the site that would include the tallest building in the Western hemisphere, also gained a partner for the endeavor. Earlier this month, the day after the option payment was made, Australian billionaire James Packer announced that the company he controls, Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd., had acquired a 37.5% stake in the project.

The purchase price for the property has risen to $475 million from $450 million. Had Milam made the option payment two months earlier, by the end of March, the purchase price would still be $450 million, according to SEC filings. The $40-million payment and an initial $5 million payment are being applied to the purchase price. The $2.4 million in extension payments that have been made are not being applied to the purchase price. Milam and Packer have approximately one year to exercise the purchase option, as long as they make monthly $2-million-plus payments beginning in October.

Located immediately south of the Sahara hotel-casino, the site was home to the Wet ‘n Wild amusement park, which closed in 2004. The seller is Archon Corp., a locally based public gaming company with one operating casino-hotel property to its name, the Pioneer Hotel & Gambling Hall in Laughlin, NV.

Tentative plans for the site call for a 142-story, 5,000-room hotel-casino that would be the tallest building in the Western hemisphere. Milam reportedly has retained Paul Steelman Group for the casino, RTKL for the retail component and Skidmore, Owings and Merrill for the hotel tower.

Milam tied up the Wet ‘n Wild property in June 2006. The $16.66 million per-acre purchase price is comparable to what MGM Mirage recently paid for 25.5 acres located directly across Las Vegas Boulevard that is contiguous to its Circus Circus property. One mile closer to the heart of the Strip, immediately north of Fashion Show Mall and across from Wynn Lass Vegas, Israeli billionaire Yitzhak Tshuva’s New York City-based Elad Properties has agreed to pay $34.7 million per acre for the 34.5-acre site of the New Frontier casino-resort.

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