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Cordish plans $2.2 billion hotel and entertainment district in Spain

Major development in Spain is planned by Baltimore-based Cordish Cos.

After spending about three years assembling the land, Cordish Cos. has submitted plans to build a $2.2 billion entertainment resort district in Spain, as the family-owned Baltimore firm looks to international markets to expand its gaming division.

The proposed project near Madrid, which would stretch over more than 300 acres, is the first of several the firm is exploring outside the United States as the domestic gambling market gets more crowded, said David Cordish, chairman and CEO of the company, which is known locally for Power Plant Live and the Maryland Live Casino.

Cordish partners presented the plan to Madrid's regional government this week. The development is expected to include as many as 2,700 new hotel rooms — three hotels with spas and lagoons are in the initial plan — as well as shopping outlets, dining, entertainment venues for theater and comedy, and office space.

The project, dubbed Live Resorts Madrid, would be the first of its kind in Europe, bringing a Las Vegas-style experience to one of the most visited cities in the world, Cordish said.

"I've never been more confident that there's a market for this," he said Thursday. "The difficulty was putting it together."

It took about three years for the firm to assemble the land for the project, a task that involved negotiating with hundreds of property owners, Cordish said. He compared it to the assembly undertaken by Jim Rouse for Columbia. (In size it is more directly comparable to Port Covington, which is about 260 acres.)

He declined to say how much the firm had spent acquiring the land, which is currently undeveloped.

Partner Joe Weinberg, who was in Spain for the announcement Thursday, told reporters there that the firm hopes to get the go-ahead from the regional government in the next five or six months.

Local leaders appeared to be open to the proposal, which would be located in the Torres de la Alameda district, according to reports in the Spanish newspaper El Pais. It's about 25 minutes from the international airport.

"I want to be cautious, but it looks good," Cristina Cifuentes, president of the Comunidad de Madrid, the regional government, told the paper.

Most European casinos are small operations, generating an average of $11.3 million, according to a 2016 report by Pricewaterhouse Cooper, exploring the possibilities for integrated resort casinos in Europe. The firm concluded that there is an opportunity for a gaming resort at the scale of Las Vegas or Macau, notwithstanding potential regulatory and development pitfalls.

Several similar proposals in Spain have stalled, including one pushed by Sheldon Adelson's Las Vegas Sands, which abandoned a massive "EuroVegas" proposal outside Madrid in 2013.

"It's clear that there is a significant opportunity to implement the IRC model in Europe, and do it successfully. The economic conditions are right, the fundamentals are strong, and the consumers are there," the authors of the report concluded.

Cordish Cos., founded by Cordish's grandfather in 1910, has projects across the United States. Its Maryland Live venture is Maryland's biggest casino, generating more than $550 million in revenue through October this year.

While the firm has several U.S. projects in the works, including plans for a casino in Philadelphia, Cordish said opportunities for domestic gaming projects are becoming rarer. The firm is also exploring opportunities in Canada and Asia, he said.

Some restrictions on gambling operations in the Madrid area were lifted amid the negotiations over the Las Vegas Sands project. Cordish said the new opportunity piqued the firm's interest.

"There isn't in Europe anything like what we're doing, so we thought it was worth the effort and the money and the time," he said.

The company estimates that the resort would draw more than 675,000 people in its first year. The project would also create more than 56,000 total permanent and construction jobs and generate more than $4 billion in economic activity over five years.

The resort would be primarily oriented toward European tourists, who — unlike Americans — aren't necessarily looking for an authentic Old World experience while on vacation, Cordish said.

"If you live over there, you're already used to cobblestone streets," he said. "They're going to come visit this."

The first phase would include a hotel, gaming and retail. It likely would take at least a decade to fully build out the development, which would be privately funded, Cordish said.

The project is expected to include more than 1 million square feet of retail; about 275,000 square feet of convention and meeting space; about 450,000 square feet of offices; about 125,000 square feet of gaming and 200,000-square feet of theaters, comedy clubs, concert halls and the like. It would be anchored by a central plaza.

Some Spanish partners already have a small stake in the project, but Cordish said the firm still is deciding about whether and how it might work with partners on the plans.

Cordish said the challenges of assembling a site that large have blocked the emergence of a major resort in Europe before.

"It doesn't exist, in my opinion, not because it won't work," he said. "It doesn't exist because people can't put together the land mass."

nsherman@baltsun.com

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