WJC Groundbreaking Planned for April

The vision of the World Jewelry Center is quickly becoming a reality as officials said Thursday that they have reached their goal of receiving agreements for more than a quarter of the total space in the proposed 60-story tower—the central element of the 5.4-acre multi-use project in downtown Las Vegas.

Bill Boyajian, WJC managing director, said at a press conference held at the Mirage Hotel and Casino, that 80 international companies representing the breadth of the jewelry industry have submitted non-binding letters-of-intent for more 200,000 square-feet of space (27 percent of total space) in the 800,000 square-foot tower. The goal was months in advance of the deadline WJC officials set in October 2007, when plans for the complex were first unveiled.

“We have tremendous assortment of companies,” Boyajian said. “They love Las Vegas and love the idea of creating a world jewelry center in the West. It’s building tremendous momentum.”

Because of this development, Robert Zarnegin, World Jewelry Center chairman, the mastermind behind the project, said that in about a month’s time, they will buy the land and are on schedule to break ground in April, 2008. They expect the project to be completed as early as 2010.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, a staunch supporter of the project, described the tower as “Dubainesque.”

“It’s the perfect idea,” he said. “It marries the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas with the glitz and glamour of the jewelry industry.”

Goodman said that Zarnegin has expressed no interest in any financial incentives the city could offer. He is planning to pay market value for the land and has not applied for tax increment financing. “Some developers (building projects in the same area) wanted it,” Goodman said. “He’s not concerned about it.”

Goodman said the city’s role is “to make it as easy as possible” to go through inspection and zoning processes and to support this project any way it can.

For example, the 60-story tower will be the highest building in Las Vegas. It’s so high the Federal Aviation Administration expressed concern about whether it would affect flight patterns to and from McCarran International Airport. Goodman scoffed at the notion of reducing the height. “We don’t care what the FAA says. We’re going up.”

The tower is being envisioned as a trade hub for jewelry and gem industry dealers, manufacturers, and traders. In addition to the businesses, the top floors will contain 12 luxury condominiums (an increase from six in the original plans).

One of the major attractions for tower is its future designation as a “Foreign Trade Zone.” This means that foreign companies will not pay a duty for products shipped into the U.S. until the products are sold. Tommy Berry, president and chief executive officer of PointTrade Services, Inc., has been brought in to manage the process. He said the designation is assured.

The plans also include an adjacent three-story building that will house retail spaces and a gem museum. Boyajian said it is being planned as a retail destination and will feature jewelry from retailers representing approximately 20 countries. Retail will account for 90,000 square feet of the 125,000 square-foot building.

Boyajian said they will be very selective when choosing retailers to ensure that the product will be unique, very-little overlapping of products, and will be an accurate representation of the prospective countries.

An important reason for Goodman’s enthusiasm for the project is that he was responsible for the city’s acquisition of an abandoned 61-acre parcel of land from the Union Pacific Railroad in downtown Las Vegas in 1995. Renamed Union Park, Goodman and the city has been working hard to develop this former railroad station. In addition to the proposed WJC, the area is being developed for a variety of institutions, including a performing arts center and an institute for neurological research designed by Frank Gehry. Residential and office buildings, a public park, and (being Las Vegas) casinos are being proposed for the area.

Adjacent to Union Park is the World Market Center, a furniture marketplace. Completed in 2005, it is being lauded for the business it brings to the city.