Las Vegas Strip Welcomes Newest Megaresort

By Tony Illia | September 28, 2010

The Las Vegas Strip is welcoming the newest addition to its famed skyline — the $1.8-billion, 3,042-room Palazzo Casino Resort. It's one of the city's largest megaresorts. The Palazzo opened in late December at the southeast corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Sands Avenue, across from the Wynn Las Vegas. The mammoth jaw-dropping hotel casino is being developed by Las Vegas Sands Corp., the local firm also responsible for The Venetian.

The massive new Palazzo Casino Resort on the Las Vegas Strip is an impressive structure as its hotel tower climbs toward an eventual height of 50 stories, 645 feet tall.  Photo by Richard Christensen, Mojave Electric.

The 7.5-million-square-foot Palazzo — the equivalent of 156 football fields — is wedged into a narrow 8-acre site with near zero lot lines. Site constraints, a lack of staging area, and an aggressive 41-month schedule created some unique challenges for the project's simple-fee construction manager Taylor International Corp. of Las Vegas.

"We had nearly no room for staging on-site, creating a coordination nightmare," said James Mason, Taylor's project executive. "It has meant careful planning with all the material suppliers."

The project maximizes its Strip-front real estate by going underground, removing 1.2 million cubic yards of earth from the property to create a four-level, 4,000-space subterranean cast-in-place parking structure. There is another below-grade level for back-of-house services. Granite Construction Co., Watsonville, Calif., is the earthwork contractor.

"It took 114,285 truck trips over 16 months to remove all the dirt," said Don Sawyer, Granite's project manager. "There were up to 600 truck trips a day, running double shifts, six days a week."

Crews excavated down 60 feet, using a 390-foot-long, 18-degree earthen service ramp at Sands Avenue for truck traffic, while utilizing 10 pumps with a combined 40,000-gallon-a-day capacity to dewater the site. The building footprint, which consumes nearly the entire site, rests atop a foundation of 747 drilled and reinforced piers from 4-foot to 8-foot diameter and 60-feet to 120-feet deep. The foundation mat required an 8,000-cubic-yard, 11-hour continuous concrete pour with six pumps placing 750 cubic yards per hour.

The 2-million-square-foot garage, meanwhile, is built with an 80-foot-deep secant pile retaining system with four layers of tiebacks. Issac Construction Co. Inc., Las Vegas, is the concrete contractor. The 645-foot-tall hotel tower rises from grade-level into a Y-shaped, steel-framed structure clad with a combination of EIFS, stone and glass.

Designed by Dallas-based HKS Inc. with Walter P. Moore, Houston, as structural engineer, the 50-story Palazzo tower is built from steel structural members, bolted and welded together, with up to 18-inch-wide, 48-inch-deep I-beam girders. The hotel has concrete shear wall elevator and stairwell corridors; concrete-over-metal-decking flooring; and concrete-filled, 1.5-inch-thick plate-steel built-up box girders for lateral, X-frame bracing at each end of the building. The tower's southern wing cantilevers 18 feet over the neighboring Venetian — an engineering feat that required an 18-inch-thick, 15-foot-wide "mega-column" that extends from the foundation footings up through the seventh floor.

"It's a lot of square footage packed into what is essentially a postage-stamp-sized lot," said David Platten, a principal with Walter P. Moore. "Steel provided speed of erection with no formwork or cure time. Steel was also lighter than concrete, which was a consideration due to the soil conditions."

The Palazzo uses 70,000 tons of structural steel, making it the largest steel project in North America, claim officials. Steel enabled a much more flexible erection sequence, allowing work to occur from one end to the other as opposed to pouring a full floor at a time before progressing to the next level. The strategy, however, depended on steel fabrication staying ahead of the erection schedule. But a lengthy site excavation gave Schuff International, the Phoenix-based steel fabricator/erector, the necessary time needed to produce the building's structural components, which were trucked to the site daily from eight miles away. Yet the tower still rose at a rate of one floor a week due, in part, to three 30,000-pound-capacity hammerhead tower cranes and five mobile crawler and rough terrain cranes.

The hotel features 31-foot 6-inch framing bays that are the equivalent of two guest rooms. The modules enable the owners to conceal 24-inch-deep supporting beams in between rooms, thereby creating more usable space. Rooms range from 655 square feet to 735 square feet in size, each with a 12-inch step that creates a sunken living room. The bi-level configuration is part of the Palazzo's signature ambience.

The megaresort's opulent appearance relies on over 70 different finishes from gold leaf and honeycomb panels to sandblasted glass to hand-painted ceilings. The project boasts 1.8 million square feet of stone, marble and granite that required over 400 masons for installation. The property additionally uses recessed and indirect lighting along with 45 chandeliers, including a 15-foot-diameter, 3,000-pound formed glass overlapping leaf creation over the "Gold Bar."

The hotel tower is skirted by an elaborate four-level, 1-million-square-foot podium that houses a 105,000-square-foot casino, a 2,000-seat theater that will host the Broadway musical "Jersey Boys," and seven new restaurants with offerings from celebrity chefs Wolfgang Puck and Mario Batali. The structure also contains a 450,000-square-foot convention area and a 72,000-square-foot grand ballroom with a 200-foot clear-span and 2,500-person capacity. It also has a two-level, 450,000-square-foot shopping mall with 80 high-end retail stores and boutiques, including Barney's New York and Salvatore Ferragamo. Each store and restaurant has its own individual contractor, adding yet another layer of project coordination. Taylor, as a result, utilized 60 supervisory staff, with another 20 owner-supplied project managers.

"Since January [2007] the Palazzo has cost $2 million a day to build," Mason says. "That's for workmen, materials, fabrication — everything."

It's easy to understand why. The podium, for example, has an 11,000-square-foot Strip-front aluminum glass curtain wall, plus six skylights and four dramatic glass domes, the largest of which measures 110 feet in diameter by 100 feet tall. The podium, as a result, uses 150 structural transfer columns, with three street-level setbacks from 50 feet up to 100 feet tall. It also boasts 45 pools and water features, including a semi-circular, 50,000-gallon cascading porte-cochere fountain that originates from a 50-foot-high marble chalice weighing 40,000 pounds. There is another 22-foot-tall green marble fountain under the 9,000-square-foot retail octagon dome that serves as a visitor gathering area.

The podium rooftop, meanwhile, doubles as a landscaped outdoor recreation deck consisting of eight swimming pools, 12 spas, 30 cabanas, two public and three service bars. The dynamic load requires supporting steel bathtubs around the pools with up to 8-foot-deep girders along perimeters.

Despite its complicated construction, the Palazzo promises a new level of lavish luxury. The resort casino will create 4,000 full- and part-time local positions. Palazzo, like its older sibling The Venetian, generated heavy buzz around town in anticipation of its year-end Strip debut.