For Clarion owner, implosion is the easy part

By John Katsilometes 
Published Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015 | 10:13 a.m. 
Updated Monday, Feb. 9, 2015 | 11:33 a.m.

Imploding a building is a massive undertaking. It’s a real knock-down, drag-out experience.

But our city’s latest implosion isn’t the most massive undertaking on the to-do list of Lorenzo Doumani, owner of the Clarion resort and its surrounding property. In fact, the implosion, scheduled for Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. (or, late Monday night), isn’t even the biggest project for Doumani this month.

The real estate magnate also is renovating an estate he bought in December 2013 in the Hollywood Hills, an 8,835-square-foot mansion flanked by a pair of guest houses that overlooks the Chateau Marmont luxury hotel on Sunset Boulevard.

The home previously was owned by Katy Perry and Russell Brand, who paid $6.5 million for the property in 2011, only to divorce a year later. Doumani paid $5.6 million for the estate, but for the past three months has been toggling his time between L.A. and Las Vegas overseeing a massive refurbishment of the home. The structure needs to be reinforced to prevent it from sliding down the hillside on which it sits.

“This is not just pouring a slab of concrete and building on it,” Doumani said. “We’re going in with giant drilling rigs to put columns in the ground. This is much harder, truthfully, than planning an implosion. Much harder.”

The long-anticipated knockdown of the Clarion, once the Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Hotel, will be witnessed by a group of VIP guests on the 6-acre site.

Doumani, who paid $22.5 million for the hotel in October, plans to build a mixed-use, nongaming resort to target conventioneers. He is lining up international investors to fund the project, expected to cost between $500 million and $1 billion, and is relying on Congress’ EB-5 investment program, which allows investors to secure American citizenship in exchange for large business investments.

Doumani is familiar with major real estate transactions. His father, Ed, was the original owner of La Concha on the Strip, the lobby of which now is the entrance to the Neon Museum. Lorenzo Doumani owns the parcel on which the Peppermill restaurant sits, and he is the former head of Majestic Resorts, which in 2007 sold 5.4 acres between the Peppermill and Riviera for $180 million.

So Doumani knows as much about moving money as moving dirt. For his new resort, Doumani envisions a tower so high he can look down on Wynn and Encore from its rooftop. He talks of a resort that has a personality as large as his own — which is significant — with style and offerings befitting any gourmand. A half-dozen restaurants and “great, unique entertainment” are to be hallmarks of the unnamed resort.

But here is where we slide in a healthy measure of skepticism: We’ll be excited when cranes and shovels hit that property. The catch is, the future and timeline of Doumani’s resort depend on two significant projects: Genting Berhad’s Resorts World Las Vegas and a planned expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

The announcement that Chinese-themed Resorts World would be built sparked the $2.3 billion convention center concept, which in turn will dictate how and when Doumani proceeds. The convention center is across the street from the Clarion property.

The best time frame for the new resort to open is the summer of 2018, Doumani said, but expect fluidity throughout the project’s development.

“I will have some idea of what we’re going to do later in the year,” Doumani said. “We need to wait for the convention center plans to come through. There is a synergy in the entire area. Everything needs to be complementary, and my feeling is the convention center is going to have an idea of its own timeline in the second quarter of next year. But all my preliminary plans are ready to go. I just don’t want to make any big announcement, then have to make big changes.”

In a city that has witnessed myriad renderings of projects that never broke ground, the Clarion’s implosion signifies only the start of a grand design. Keep an eye on Resorts World. That will be a good indicator of how these dominoes — and even the old Clarion — will tumble.