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LAS VEGAS-The redeveloper of the defunct Holy Cow! casino at Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue gained preliminary approval late last week from the Las Vegas Planning Commission for a 37,100-square-foot, two-story building landmarked by an 11,000-square-foot video billboard that would stand 100-feet tall.

The building would house a casino, a pharmacy, a restaurant and a tavern. With the property already zoned for gaming, it was the signage that piqued everyone’s interest.

Sahara Avenue is the dividing line between the City of Las Vegas to the north and unincorporated Clark County to the south. Like the nearby Stratosphere hotel-casino, the sign would mark the north-end of the Las Vegas Strip.

Initially, the developers proposed a 500-foot-tall sign with approximately 29,000 square feet of sign area. It was winnowed to 98 feet and 11,210 square feet after the initial proposal received a chilly reception. The revised application goes before the Las Vegas City Council in early August.

The developer is Steve Johnson, a low-key investor-developer from Scottsdale, AZ that snapped up the two-acre site two years ago for $47 million, giving him one of the smallest gaming-entitled site on the Strip. Operating as Aspen Highlands LLC, he has waited until now to redevelopment the property because he has been busy redeveloping an 0.64-acre site fronting the Venetian and Palazzo casinos for which he paid $32.5 million in 2003.

That site was in the process of becoming a 50-story luxury residential-over-retail tower when his partner Las Vegas Sands pulled the plug on its piece of the construction in late 2008. The site now holds only Johnson’s portion of the development, the first two stories, one of which now holds a Walgreens. Above that, Johnson had leased six stories of air rights to Las Vegas Sands Corp. for office space and, above that, sold them the air rights for the condos.

The Holy Cow casino, which contained a microbrewery and a cafe, shut down in 2002, reportedly a victim of the economic slowdown at that time. More recently, it was slated for an Ivana Trump-branded condominium tower that never materialized. Current plans call for razing the existing structure as soon as possible and having the new place up and running by late 2010, a Johnson spokesperson tells GlobeSt.com.

The property occupies the northeast corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue. Diagonally across the intersection is land MGM had acquired for a multibillion-dollar integrated casino resort in partnership with Kerzner International. Across Sahara is the Sahara Hotel & Casino, which is 2007 had just been taken over by SBE Entertainment Group LLC and Stockbridge Real Estate Funds. Across Las Vegas Boulevard and up two blocks is the Stratosphere, the Strip’s northernmost casino.

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