Boyd Aims to Keep Stardust Employees - Tuesday 7th of February 2006

LAS VEGAS Boyd Gaming Corp. has developed a plan to retain all 1,899 of its Stardust workers even after it demolishes the resort to make way for its $4 billion Echelon Place project.

The company also wants to minimize disruptions and keep its loyal customers by relocating them to alternative Boyd Gaming properties.

"We want to retain both as many employees and customers as we possibly can," Boyd Gaming spokesman Rob Stillwell said. "We're fortunate we have 11 other properties that afford us great flexibility from an employee and a customer standpoint."

Culinary Local 226's top official, Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor, said Boyd Gaming executives met with the union in mid-January to discuss plans for the Stardust's 1,005 union workers.

He said the union raised concerns with the company involving the closure, severance payments and placement of workers, but he expects a response from the company early this month.

"Then, we'll know better where we stand," he said.

Stillwell, who said Boyd Gaming has always had a positive relationship with the Culinary, declined to discuss details of the plan because negotiations with the union are continuing.

He also said Boyd Gaming has scheduled meetings with 894 nonunion workers Feb. 15 to present its plans for retaining and reassigning them.

Workers, who all asked not to be named, generally said Boyd Gaming has been supportive and that they were pleased with the broad outlines of the plans.

"They had to tear it down sometime to keep up. Can't fight City Hall. But it's good to hear they're worrying about us workers," one waitress said Wednesday.

Another hotel worker said he has been with the company 10 years and the placement plans are consistent with the support and training opportunities Boyd has offered.

"Boyd's been good to me and the guys I work with. It's not a surprise they're being smart about this too," he said.

Not everyone was entirely happy, though.

A bellman said he wished it were possible to redevelop the site as a phased project because it's a convenient commute and he likes the customers.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas Professor Bill Thompson, who specializes in gaming studies, said retaining all of a hotel-casino's workers through the entire construction phase is unusual, if not unique, in Las Vegas history.

Other companies have offered 90 days pay after closures and implosions and promised workers jobs after reopening, as when Wynn Resorts demolished the Desert Inn or when Las Vegas Sands Corp. imploded the old Sands and built The Venetian.

But most companies have not been in a position to retain the affected workers over multiyear construction projects, he said.

"It's an unusual pattern of showing loyalty. No one else has ever kept employees in the system from day one to reopening," Thompson said.

Redevelopment plans call for keeping the Stardust open through the end of the year, and then imploding the iconic tower and other structures on the 63-acre site early next year.

Thompson said Boyd Gaming, which has 14,000 employees in the Las Vegas Valley, is better positioned to place workers at other properties since its acquisition of Coast Casinos in 2004.

"It's an advantage of scale. Coast gives them five or six more outlets and with attrition of 10 or 20 percent a year or more, they need the workers in any event," he said.

"It's good for the loyalty of customers, but especially good for worker loyalty. And that makes it smart for the company," he said. "Boyd is going to need the workers and their talent, and this way it won't be giving the experience and training away to competitors."

Plans call for a single-phase development with all elements of Echelon Place opening within a few weeks of one another.

Some workers said they would prefer the option of going on unemployment when the Stardust closes, and company executives said nothing will be done to impede such assistance.

Stillwell said Boyd Gaming will handle hiring at Echelon Place just as it did at South Coast on Las Vegas Boulevard south of the airport and at The Borgata in Atlantic City, offering current Boyd Gaming workers the chance to apply for positions before they are opened to the general public.

However, he said after Echelon Place is completed, all employees will have the option of applying for positions there, although many may prefer to stay in their interim positions rather than returning to the old site and working at an entirely new property.

When it opens in 2010 on the Strip's west side just north of Wynn Las Vegas, Echelon Place will include 5,300 hotel rooms, 1 million square feet of meeting and convention space, 350,000 square feet of retail stores and a 140,000-square-foot casino.

Boyd Gaming will own and operate the 3,300-room Echelon Resort, which will include a 2,600-room Resort Tower and a 700-room Suite Tower, with each containing its own spa.

It will include a 4,000-seat theater with stadium seating designed to accommodate concerts and production shows and a 1,500-seat theater for smaller shows and touring acts.

Boyd Gaming has also entered a management agreement with Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, the Asian Pacific's leading luxury hotel group, to include a Shangri-La Hotel within Echelon Place.

The Shangri-La Hotel, Las Vegas, which will be owned by Boyd Gaming and operated by Shangri-La, will include 400 guest rooms and suites, a 20,000-square-foot spa, meeting space and two restaurants.

Boyd Gaming has entered into a 50-50 joint venture agreement with the Morgans Hotel Group, a developer of lifestyle-boutique hotels, for the construction of two hotels within Echelon Place.

As part of the master-planned project, Boyd Gaming will develop, own and operate the Las Vegas ExpoCenter at Echelon Place. The Las Vegas ExpoCenter will feature 650,000 square feet of exhibition space and 175,000 square feet of meeting and conference space.

With the Echelon Resort, the total meeting and exhibition space at Echelon Place is expected to exceed 1 million square feet with more than 200 meeting rooms.

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