LAS VEGAS, Nev., March 14 -- The first phase of the $550 million Stratosphere Tower Hotel & Casino, with the tallest free-standing observation tower in the United States, will open April 30, the company announced Thursday. The first phase includes 1,500 rooms and suites, 97,000 square feet of casino space and two roller coaster rides. 'The Big Shot,' a 160- foot acceleration ride, will propel riders up the mast of the 1,149-foot tower, and 'The High Roller' is billed as the world's highest roller coaster. 'Construction has been proceeding very well, and at this time we are able to pinpoint our completion date and announce the opening,' Stratosphere Corp. President David Wirshing said. 'Stratosphere will be the next-generation entertainment superstore for Las Vegas and take its place among the premier attractions not only in this city, but anywhere. ' The project's second phase, which is scheduled to be completed by December, will consist of an additional 1,000 rooms and suites, 21,000 more square-feet of casino space, retail shops and the 'King Kong' gorilla ride. A $30 million, 80,000-square-foot aquarium attraction is set to open in 1997. Grand Casinos Inc., which operates six casinos in Mississippi, Minnesota and Louisiana and is building another in Mississippi, controls about 43 percent of Stratosphere Corp. 'Stratosphere is Grand Casinos' entry into the Las Vegas market, which is the most exciting and profitable in the nation,' said Lyle Berman, Grand Casinos' chairman and chief executive officer. 'I can't think of a better way to enter this market than with a landmark property, and that's just what Stratosphere will be.'
Company executives hope the Stratosphere Tower will become the international symbol of Las Vegas, much like the way the Eiffel Tower represents Paris and the Space Needle represents Seattle. The project is among a spate of mega-resorts under construction on the burgeoning Las Vegas Strip. Major casino companies have been looking for ways to lure still more visitors to the area, already the nation's top tourist area with 29 million visitors last year, with a variety of new projects such as MGM Grand and Primadonna Resort's $350 million New York-New York project. Mirage Resorts Inc. disclosed last week it will spend $1.25 billion on its Bellagio resort in Las Vegas, billed as the most extravagant hotel on the planet. Casino operators have been scrambling to build hotel/casino mega- resorts that appeal to families rather than traditional gamblers. Circus Circus Enterprises launched the first round in the mega-resort war, with the October 1993 opening of its $390 million, 2,500-room Luxor casino featuring a 30-story, glass-skinned pyramid and a replica of the Sphinx. Later that same month, Mirage Resorts opened its 2,900-room, pirate- themed $475 million Treasure Island resort that features live pirate shows. About two months later, MGM Grand opened its $1 billion MGM Grand mega-resort, which features an amusement park.