In the Shadows

The Strip’s first condo development is surrounded and dwarfed by its new neighbor, the Cosmopolitan. But people who live in the Jockey Club are just fine with that.

Forney Smith is on the roof of the Jockey Club, giving a tour of the Strip’s first condo/time-share resort on a late December afternoon. While pointing out the Bellagio fountains to the north and describing the view of the Strip circa 1974, Smith is interrupted by a man shouting from a balcony on the neighboring Cosmopolitan. “Man, is that place for sale? That place has to be worth a goldmine!”

With the 52-story Cosmopolitan towering over it and situated just 5 feet away at the closest point, the Jockey Club is hidden from view in some aspects, but in others has never had a greater visibility.

Smith and his partner, Louis Schreiber, purchased 10 acres for the Jockey Club in 1972. The partners built high-rise condos in Florida before coming to Las Vegas. Their development originally consisted of 348 one- and two-bedroom condominiums; today it houses 78 condos and 270 time-share units in two 11-story towers on 1½ acres adjacent to the north side of the Cosmopolitan.

Smith, who still works managing and maintaining the property despite having sold it in 1985, says the Cosmopolitan’s original developer, Bruce Eichner, was interested in the Jockey Club’s 10 acres, but never made an offer. Deutsche Bank, the company that assumed ownership of the Cosmopolitan in 2008, never offered to purchase it either, he says.

“When [Eichner’s group] first bought the land to build the Cosmopolitan, they came and asked me what I would do to buy the owners out here, and I told them how to handle it,” says Smith, who served as a liaison between the two properties. “And they went back and put their numbers together and said, ‘No, it’s too expensive.’”

Smith estimates it would have cost the Cosmopolitan between $400 million and $500 million to buy out all the condo and time-share owners, with some of that coming in trade for new condos at the Cosmopolitan. That deal would have been contingent on each individual owner being willing to sell. (Representatives of the Cosmopolitan did not respond to requests for comment for this story.) Cosmopolitan developers did purchase the 8½ acres surrounding the Jockey Club’s Ascot and Derby towers for $90 million in 2004.

Despite the close quarters, the relationship between the developments is amiable. The Cosmopolitan paid more than $9 million in contractually required improvements to the Jockey Club, including upgrading the fire-safety system, moving the lobby entrances for each tower, repaving the north driveway and aesthetic improvements such as matching the existing marble flooring. The Cosmopolitan also paid for valet parking at the Jockey Club for the last four years, concluding Jan. 3, and dedicated 348 spaces on the third level of the five-story underground parking garage for Jockey Club residents, complete with two private elevators that go to both properties.

Because the Jockey Club’s pool is now shaded by its taller neighbor, the Cosmopolitan agreed to provide 75 passes daily to its own rooftop pool. The Jockey Club’s two tennis courts now sit atop the Cosmopolitan, as well.

“There have not been any major challenges,” Smith says. “They’ve been really nice to work with all the way through.”

That neighborly relationship prevented any discontent among residents of the Jockey Club, which stands only 20 feet from the Cosmopolitan on its south side. In fact, many residents welcome the amenities. Smith says he originally planned a third, 30-story tower for the Jockey Club that would have housed a casino, showrooms, bars and restaurants, but back then the Federal Aviation Administration balked at the height of the structure so it was never built.

“When they announced that they were building [the Cosmopolitan] at our owners’ annual meeting,” Smith says, “the owners were delighted and said, ‘We’ve been waiting 25 years for this.’”

All 270 time-share units are scheduled to be renovated this year at a cost of about $6 million, and Smith says the Jockey Club hasn’t had a vacancy since 1993, removing any need to advertise the property. He says the average length of service for current Jockey Club employees is 12 years, giving them a sense of loyalty to their jobs. And thanks to modern computer-controlled operating systems, the property’s power bills are lower than they were in the late 1980s.

“I have great pride in that,” he says. “The property is in much better shape today than it was when I built it in ’72 and ’73.”

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