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LAS VEGAS-SBE Entertainment Group LLC of Los Angeles and San Francisco-based Stockbridge Real Estate Funds have completed their acquisition of the Sahara Hotel & Casino here from Las Vegas-based Gordon Gaming Corporation, a deal first announced in March. The new owners reportedly paid between $300 million and $400 million for the property and plan to invest additional dollars to renovate and revitalize the 55-year-old asset.

The 1,720-room hotel-casino, featured in the original “Ocean’s Eleven” film starring Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, covers 18 acres fronting the north end of the Las Vegas Strip. While a definitive timeline for the property’s renovation remains in flux, SBE CEO Sam Nazarian of Los Angeles says the new owners “have an exciting vision for this property.”

SBE, which has hotel, nightclub, restaurant and film divisions, has assumed management of the hotel and its associated food and beverage operations. Sahara’s 85,000-sf casino will be operated by Navegante Group, a casino management and development company owned by Las Vegas casino executive and entrepreneur, Larry J. Woolf.

Navegante, who operates four Downtown Las Vegas casinos and others in Elko and Carson City, reportedly has a 1-year lease to operate the casino while executives from SBE Entertainment and Stockbridge seek license to run it themselves. Navegante’s lease may be extended for one additional year in three-month increments, according to published reports.

The Sahara sale is one of many North Strip properties in flux. Immediately south of the Sahara, Texas developer Christopher Milam in June paid $40 million to maintain his option to acquire 27 acres fronting the Las Vegas Strip for $475 million. Milam is planning a $5-billion development for the site that would include the tallest building in the Western hemisphere in partnership with Australian billionaire James Packer’s Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd.

Across the street from the Sahara, MGM Mirage Inc. in May paid two different owners $576 million for 33.5 contiguous acres that abut MGM’s existing assets and have Strip frontage, giving the company a total of 102 acres to master plan. In June, the company and Kerzner International Holdings Ltd. signed a letter of intent to form a joint venture for the development a multibillion resort on the property, which abuts the north end of MGM’s Circus Circus property.

Immediately west of Circus Circus, on the other side of the Strip, is the Riviera Hotel & Casino, which could change hands if its publicly held owner accepts one of the buyout offers it has received. Immediately south of Circus Circus, Boyd Gaming recently demolished the Stardust resort to make way for Echelon Place, a $4-billion complex of hotels, casinos, entertainment venues and shopping that is scheduled to open in 2010. The plan includes 5,300 rooms in four hotels, a 140,000-sf casino, theaters, a shopping promenade, spas and convention space.

Immediately south of the Echelon Place project is the New Frontier hotel-casino, which recently shut down in advance of its sale to El-Ad Properties of New York for $1.2 billion. El-Ad has announced a partner, Tel Aviv-based IDB Development Corp., and plans for a multibillion redevelopment of the site. The sale is expected to close by the end of the August.

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