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Clooney Rolls The Dice On Vegas

The last time George Clooney scored big in Las Vegas, he ripped off a casino in the movie "Ocean's Eleven." This time, instead of taking oodles of cash out of a resort, he's putting a sizable chunk into one.

Clooney has invested in a proposed $3 billion development called Las Ramblas to be built just east of the heart of the Las Vegas Strip.

While the location for his latest project is the same, the cast is much different. Clooney has partnered with major real estate developers Related Las Vegas and Centra Properties, along with influential nightclub owner Rande Gerber and his company, After Midnight.

"I could end up just losing my shirt on this whole thing, but these guys are pretty good at what they do," Clooney told The Associated Press. "It's going to be an adventure."

Las Ramblas is planned for about 25 acres between the Hard Rock hotel-casino and the proposed W hotel, Starwood's newest Las Vegas venture that was recently announced. Las Ramblas is named for a fashionable and pedestrian-friendly area in Barcelona, Spain, that boasts a promenade and cafes.

The project will include more than 4,400 condominium and hotel units in 11 high-rise towers, along with shops and a 48,000-square-foot casino — about half the size of the sprawling gambling floors found in the city's others megaresorts.

"This is not designed to be the next great casino of Las Vegas. This is designed to be the next great resort," said Jim Stuart, who co-founded Centra of Las Vegas with partner Kenny Sullivan.

Related Las Vegas President Marty Burger said he expects to break ground in 2006 and build in phases over the next five years.

Burger said Las Ramblas would not be a themed concept, something Las Vegas casino operators seem to be moving away from.

Clooney and Gerber, who's married to supermodel Cindy Crawford, will help design and direct the restaurants, entertainment, spa and a 300-room boutique hotel. Gerber is known for his ultracool nightclubs in New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

"It's not about lending a name to a project," Gerber said. "It's truly creating a vision we've had for years. We have a substantial amount of our personal income in this."

Clooney declined to say how much money he was putting into the project but added he and Gerber wanted to have a serious stake — not just homes they intend to purchase there.

"We want to be real investors, to have some percentage of it," he said. "You got to put your money where your mouth is. How much did I put in? A lot. A lot more than I expected."

Clooney said the hotel will be smart and sophisticated — more sports coat than tank top and more Tony Bennett than Britney Spears.

"I wanted it to be like old Vegas and old Hollywood. It's going to be a classy joint," Clooney said from his home on Lake Como in Italy.

"We're trying to be a Four Seasons with an edge," Burger said. "It's going to be hip and cool."

So far, Clooney said "Ocean's Eleven" co-star Brad Pitt and his other Hollywood pals have not committed to buying into the development. But he's hoping they'll come around.

"You bet, I'd love them all to be there. We've talked with Brad."

Burger said Pitt has seen the plans.

"We are entertaining having Brad design one of the buildings," he said.

Clooney said the project will include a movie theater suitable for holding Hollywood-type premieres. Clooney said he only had one real concern about spending a lot of time in Sin City.

"I worry about my liver," he said, jokingly.

This project is not a pipe dream, Burger said, referring to the dozens of high-rise condominium projects proposed in Las Vegas.

"The difference from being proposed and actually getting a shovel in the ground is vast. We have made a major commitment to Las Vegas," Burger said. The company's five projects in the city could total 35 million square feet and $13 billion if completed. They include the Icon residential towers, a mix-used project in downtown Las Vegas and another one with Centra near the Strip.

Related, the development arm of Related Companies in New York and the Related Group in Miami, already has partnered in building the World Market Center in downtown Las Vegas, a convention hall and mall for home decor designers, buyers and furniture industry insiders. Related Companies also built the Time Warner Center in New York City.

Centra is involved in a $750 million, mix-used project in Las Vegas called Town Square that has already broken ground.

Deutsche Bank analyst Marc Falcone said the Las Ramblas project will be very dense and likely will be built out over time.

"I'm not convinced that project gets built with all 4,400 units until we have a better gauge of demand," he said.

Falcone said Las Ramblas, the $1.7 billion W hotel and the Hard Rock's upcoming $1.3 billion hotel-casino-condo expansion all have one thing in common.

"I think the key here is you have a collection of credible companies and developers," he said. "You have three major projects with major financial backing. That can create a powerful demand."

Hard Rock President Kevin Kelley said he welcomed the competition.

"I think these sort of projects are very exciting. Having more quality projects in the city is very good for the city and the Hard Rock as well," he said. "(There's) a lot of action in the neighborhood."

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