Developers of the planned Drew Las Vegas have turned to veteran gaming executive Bobby Baldwin to lead the Las Vegas Strip property’s transformation.
Baldwin, who oversaw development and operations of the massive CityCenter complex on the Strip, retired as CEO at the end of last year.
He was named Friday as CEO of the Drew by Witkoff, a New York-based real estate development firm which acquired the unfinished Fontainebleau project in 2017. Baldwin, 70, will also become vice chairman of Witkoff. He will assume both roles immediately.
Witkoff Chairman and CEO Steven Witkoff called Baldwin “a transformational leader who has unrivaled experience.”
Baldwin’s Las Vegas gaming career stretches over parts of four decades. When he left CityCenter operator MGM Resorts International in 2018, he held the positions of chief customer development officer of the company and CEO and president of CityCenter.
His gaming career began in 1982 when he joined Steve Wynn as a consultant at the Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas. He became the hotel’s president two years later. He helped Wynn open The Mirage in 1987 and was named president of the Bellagio in 1998.
Witkoff said in April the 67-story, approximately 3,800-room property that has sat untouched for a decade on the north end of the Strip, would open in 2022.
“Bobby sees how far the project has come and is supportive of our vision and strategy,” Witkoff said in a statement. “He has been at the helm of many preeminent resorts in Las Vegas including Mirage, Bellagio, and CityCenter. Given Bobby’s industry reputation and experience, we believe he’s both the ideal individual to successfully launch this project and the ideal person to help drive strategy within the overall Witkoff enterprise.”
Witkoff’s company, in partnership with Miami real estate firm New Valley LLC, acquired the Fontainebleau from corporate raider Carl Icahn for $600 million. The project had shut down in 2009 and filed for bankruptcy.
Icahn acquired the site – which was 70 percent complete – for $150 million. He eventually sold off much of the building’s interior – including specially-made escalators and hotel furniture – but left the structure untouched.
Most of the Drew will be overseen by Marriott International in association with two of the company’s brands – JW Marriott and Edition. The property will feature more than 550,000 square feet of convention and meeting space, with multiple retail, spa, nightlife, pool, and restaurant venues.
The Drew is adjacent to the Las Vegas Convention Center’s $935 million expansion that is slated to open in 2021.
“I am thrilled to be a part of the Witkoff organization as well as the team at Drew Las Vegas,” Baldwin said in a statement. “Witkoff’s proven track record in global real estate development, financing, and operations makes this the right opportunity, particularly when combined with the introduction of the Drew.”
John Unwin, who was spearheading the initial development of Drew Las Vegas, is evaluating his future involvement with the project.
Baldwin became CEO of the announced Project City Center in 2005, which, at $9 billion, was the most expensive development in the history of Las Vegas. CityCenter opened in 2009 as a 50-50 joint venture between MGM Resorts and Dubai World, the investment arm for the United Arab Emirate.
Previously, Baldwin was chief financial officer of Mirage Resorts for Wynn when the company was sold to the then MGM Grand Corp. in 2000. After the merger, he remained with MGM in a variety of roles.
Baldwin’s original claim to fame was winning the World Series of Poker in 1978. At the time, he was the youngest player to ever win the Main Event at age 28, collecting $210,000. He continued playing poker over the years, earning four World Series of Poker individual event championship bracelets.
Nicknamed “The Owl” for his quiet and studious demeanor at the poker table, Baldwin was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2003. The high-end poker room at Bellagio was and is still named “Bobby’s Room.”
Witkoff originally said he planned to open the resort in 2020, but the Drew will now follow the $4 billion Resorts World Las Vegas, which Malaysia-based Genting Berhad plans to open late next year. The Strip hasn’t seen the opening of a multi-billion project since the Cosmopolitan opened in 2010.
At the time of the purchase, representatives for Witkoff said the name “Drew” was considered “fresh and modern.” However, others involved in the project said it was also partly in tribute to Witkoff’s son Andrew, who died in 2011.
In April, design architect Diller Scofidio + Renfro was hired to create a design for the Drew property.
Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.