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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
December 24, 2012
Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards: The Best of 2012
This is the biggest year ever for the Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards with my picks for the best Vegas hotels, shows, expensive restaurants, affordable restaurants, buffets, attractions, casinos, nightlife, and shopping plus the biggest news stories of the year. And as if that isn't enough, I've got your Reader's Choice picks for your favorite Vegas hotels, shows, expensive restaurants, affordable restaurants, buffets, and attractions.
The lists are so big this year that I set up a special page just to hold them all so visit the Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards: The Best of 2012.
But wait, there's more... everyone who voted in the Reader's Choice awards either via e-mail or through the Vegas4Visitors Facebook page was automatically entered to win one of three autographed copies of my new Frommer's Las Vegas 2013 guide book. And the winners are...
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Imperial Palace Becomes The Quad
For years there were rumors that the Imperial Palace would be torn down to make way for a new megaresort costing billions of dollars. Well, the IP is gone but not because it was imploded. Instead, the hotel is being remodeled and rebranded as The Quad, part of the master plan to create a new entertainment plaza between it and The Flamingo called Linq.
That new name became official on December 21 and so the IP is gone for good.
The $550 million Linq project, will go into the space where O'Sheas and an alley are currently located and will feature more than 30 restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues plus an open air market patterned after The Grove in Los Angeles. It will funnel people to the centerpiece of the project, the Las Vegas High Roller, a 550-foot tall observation wheel that will be the biggest of its kind in the world.
The hotel's makeover into The Quad Resort includes a new facade and entryway, a remodeled casino, a new lobby, a new casino lounge, and more. All of this is expected to be complete by late 2013 so expect some construction delays and inconveniences in the meantime.
The Imperial Palace made its official debut on The Strip in 1979 but its roots actually go back to the early 1960s. The property originally opened as The Flamingo Capri, a lower-cost motel alternative to the neighboring, more upscale Flamingo. It had 200 rooms, each with a view of a Venice style canal some 40 years before The Venetian came along. The property included a coffee shop and shuttle service to the parent hotel but no casino.
The hotel expanded dramatically in the 1970s after it was purchased by colorful Las Vegas entrepreneur Ralph Engelstad, who added thousands of rooms and a casino under the Imperial Palace banner. The hotel dropped the Flamingo Capri name on November 1, 1979 and the IP was officially born.
The hotel has not received any serious remodeling since the bulk of it was built in the late '70s and '80s - at least not to the level of places like Harrah's or The Flamingo where a series of overhauls has attempted to keep up with the Joneses. The result is the hotel feels old, something that can be both a good and not so good thing. Good because "old Vegas" is rare, especially on The Strip, and the I.P. gives off a comfy Downtown vibe like The Four Queens or the Fremont. Not so good because if you walk from the gleaming marble and muted earth tones of The Venetian for example into the I.P. it's going to seem kind of dingy in comparison. Step out of the elevators into the hotel towers and the industrial vibe is almost shocking compared to the plush surroundings of other places.
The sad thing is that won't change with the new name on the building. The rooms are not going to get any revisions and will remain the bargain basement accommodations they are now, just with a new name.
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Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards
The This Doesn't Deserve an Award Award of the Week goes to the incident at Bellagio in which a dispute between two blackjack dealers turned into violence on Saturday night when one stabbed the other in the face. 50 year-old Brenda Jean Stokes allegedly stabbed an unidentified co-worker in the blackjack pit near the Baccarat Bar (just off the main lobby) although the motive behind the attack is still unknown at this point, as is the condition of the injured dealer.
The Now You See Him, Now You Don't Award of the Week Goes to The Amazing Johnathan, who has pulled the plug on yet another Vegas residency, announcing his departure via Facebook. I just went to see the show (the 4th time, mind you) for an updated review a few weeks ago and now I am archiving it once again. In the last decade or so he has had residencies at The Golden Nugget, The Sahara, The Flamingo, The Riviera, Planet Hollywood, and most recently at Bally's (that I can remember) and each time it has ended abruptly with rumors of major conflict between the comic magician and the host hotels.
The Relax the Back Award of the Week goes to The Plaza in Downtown Las Vegas, which is offering free baggage transfers for guests between the hotel and airport through Bags Inc. You get off the plane and your bags will be delivered to the hotel and you check out and your bags are delivered to the airport. Other Vegas hotels have the service but they charge anywhere from $10-$30 per bag.
The Come Together Award of the Week goes to the merger of Las Vegas based gaming companies Pinnacle Entertainment and Ameristar Casinos in a deal worth nearly $870 million. Although the companies are in Vegas they actually don't have any casinos in town. Instead, Pinnacle will take over Ameristar's casinos and end up with 17 properties in Missouri, Iowa, Colorado, Mississippi, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and northern Nevada.
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Attraction Review: Downtown 3rd Farmer's Market
The great things about Vegas - the food, the entertainment, the excitement, the free-flowing alcohol, the people with similarly questionable morals as you - seem to almost actively prevent visitors from engaging in anything that might be remotely good for them. You know, like eating an apple. Appletini? Sure. Warm apple cobbler with a caramel glaze and vanilla bean ice cream? Absolutely!
Walking into the Downtown 3rd Farmer's Market, therefore, is a refreshing change of pace from the typical Vegas madness that almost requires a disconcerting mind shift to embrace. It's like an oasis in the middle of the neon lit desert.
Located in a former bus terminal in Downtown Las Vegas, next door to the Mob Museum, the market is not as epic as you'll find in other cities, but the two dozen or so vendors offer a wide range of produce, baked goods, organic foods, homemade treats, and artisanal batches of everything from honey to chocolate. Vendors may change from week to week but you may also find jewelry, clothing, candles, bath salts (the stuff you bathe in not the stuff that makes you want to eat someone's face), and more. As you might expect, the quality also changes from week to week depending on who is hawking their wares and the season. It's the Nevada desert so don't be expecting the most luscious of strawberries in January.
Unable to make the mental leap out of Vegas over-indulgence mode I got some fancy chocolate and a homemade cranberry scone and couldn't have been more pleased with my purchases. If I had come with a bigger suitcase I might have gotten more.
Prices will also vary depending on the season and the vendor, but in general you can expect to pay a small premium for the items owing to their fresh from the ground/oven/kiln nature but nothing I saw was exorbitant or unexpected.
The Farmer's Market is held every Friday from 9am until 3pm. Do yourself a favor after that night of staying up too late to gamble or party and go get yourself a fresh piece of fruit. Your body will thank you for it later.
Downtown 3rd Farmer's Market
Casino Center & Stewart Ave
Las Vegas, NV 89101
Vegas4Visitors Rating: A
Hotel Review: The Golden Gate
In a city that seems to delight in tearing down (or blowing up) its history, the fact that the Golden Gate is still standing is shocking. The fact that it's actually a decent, affordable, and interesting place to stay - even more so now that an expansion and remodeling project is complete - is nothing less than a miracle.
The hotel and casino opened in 1906. No, that's not a typo. About a year after the land auction that essentially created the city of Las Vegas, it got its first place to stay and gamble in the form of The Hotel Nevada. With electricity and the city's first phone it was quite the revolution but it still aimed to provide nice accommodations for a reasonable rate - $1 per day got you a room. Of course, they didn't have air conditioning but what do you want for $1 per day?
Over the years the hotel changed names, closed the casino when gambling was outlawed in 1909, reopened it when it was legalized in 1931, added rooms, and practically invented the shrimp cocktail - or at least perfected the 99-cent version of it.
Today the Golden Gate acts as a bit of a time capsule. Sprinkled throughout the building are old slot machines, photographs of the city in its infancy, hotel and gaming registries from the early 1900s, antique furnishings, and more. It's charming and completely unique in this era of bland, streamlined luxury.
So great; it's historic and quaint. But how does it stack up as an actual place to stay in Las Vegas during the era of bland, streamlined luxury?
The hotel is small in just about every measure. The casino is postage-stamp sized, just over 10,000 square feet even with a 2012 expansion. By way of comparison, most Strip casinos are at least ten times that size. There are a handful of gaming tables (blackjack, craps, roulette, three-card poker, etc.) and about 300 slot machines and video poker, most of which have lower limits than what you're used to on The Strip. So the good news here is you can play for less but the bad news is there is less to play. Luckily you are only steps away from a dozen more casinos on or near Fremont Street in case you get bored.
Instead of a dozen restaurants you get one; the famed Du-par eatery, which is where they serve coffee house fare and that famous shrimp cocktail. Note, it's $1.99 now. Yes, time marches on.
Most Strip hotels have thousands of rooms but here at the Golden Gate there are just over 100 of them and most are generously described as "cozy." No two are exactly alike but all are small with one queen or two double beds, a leather club chair, and in some a small writing desk. But these are not 1906 accommodations by any means. All of them come with flat screen televisions, pillow top mattresses, wireless Internet access, iPod radios, coffee makers, and a retro-stylish wood, leather, and wrought iron decor scheme that gives them personality despite their size.
Bathrooms are also very small - no Venetian style airplane hangars here - but they have some really cool retro tile work and nice amenities. Some of the niceties you may have gotten used to are missing in these rooms but things like irons and hair dryers are available upon request.
The 2012 expansion project added a small but important new bit of square-footage to the property that includes a much needed upgrade to the parking area and porte cochere, a formal lobby complete with comfy seating and historical artifacts, a high-limit room (three tables, TVs, and some club chairs), 14 new suites, and two penthouses.
The suites are a lot bigger than the standard rooms but not much bigger than your standard Las Vegas hotel room. Note that they are not "suites" in the traditional definition with a separate sitting and sleeping room, but there is a big L-shaped sectional sofa (that converts to a queen-sized bed), a suitably plush bed, a massive 50" flat screen television, MP3 player clock radios, and all of the other amenities that the standard rooms have. Done in masculine dark browns and earthy oranges, they feel like a warm den of a space.
One odd touch is the configuration of the bathroom. The vanity area is open to the rest of the room but can be closed off with a curtain. Two frosted glass doors hide the commode and the shower. It's a strange layout but functional and really, isn't that all that matters?
The penthouses are grand affairs - multi-room suites with more flatscreens than you'll know what to do with, a kitchenette, an outdoor patio with a BBQ and fireplace, etc. - that you can't actually rent because they reserve them for their high rollers.
A couple of bars both inside and out facing the Fremont Street Experience, and that's pretty much the sum of it for the Golden Gate. There is no pool or fitness center; no showroom or roller coaster; no all-you-can-eat buffet or celebrity chef restaurant.
But the other sum that is probably going to be important to you is the one you pay when you check out. Weekday rates for the standard rooms are usually in the $30 a night range while weekends may creep up to $75 or so. Those are the kinds of prices that you would normally pay for a bland, 70's era chain motel that counts a vending machine as its sole dining option and requires you to take a cab to get to the nearest slot machine.
The newer suites will crack $100 but not by a lot.
So the answer to question posed above is this: the Golden Gate does not even come close to comparing to the level of amenities, facilities, and luxury that most modern Las Vegas resorts offer. But it's not trying to. Instead what this hotel aims to do is provide nice accommodations at reasonable rates - almost exactly what they were doing back in 1906.
Only, now you get air conditioning.
The Golden Gate
1 Fremont St.
Las Vegas, NV 89101
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A Look Back: 600 Weekly Columns & 2007
My first column of 2013 will be my 600th Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column!
The Vegas4Visitors Weekly Column debuted in September of 1999 and I have been averaging about 45 of them a year, every year since. The one you are reading today is the 599th so barring anything apocalyptic, the first column on January 7, 2013 will be the 600th!
For the last several weeks, I've been taking a look back and rerunning some of my favorite pieces from columns of days gone by. This week it's time to look back at 2007, which was the year The Stardust and The Frontier were imploded; Celine and the White Tigers said goodbye; Palazzo and Planet Hollywood debuted; and there was talk of a 50-foot tall Michael Jackson robot wandering around in the desert. That alone should make reading the 2007 review entertaining!
I take a couple of weeks off and look what happens: the largest gaming industry buyout in history.
Harrah's Entertainment agreed to a nearly $28 billion buyout from two private equity firms just before the end of the year. For that money, the firms will get all of Harrah's assets, including Vegas casinos Harrah's, Rio, Caesars Palace, Flamingo, Bally's, Paris, Imperial Palace, and Barbary Coast and dozens of other casinos around the world. They also get all of Harrah's debt, about $10 billion worth.
Celine & Mamma Mia to Close
Official announcements were released recently on the closure of two big Vegas shows, one expected and the other a bit of a surprise.
Everyone knew that Celine Dion's contract was ending in 2007 and no on expected her to renew it beyond that, but now it is official: December 15, 2007 will be the last show at Caesars Palace for the Canadian songstress. She began her impressive run in 2003, against fairly heavy odds that a show with a single headliner commanding sky-high ticket prices could succeed. But for the bulk of the four years that she will have done her show she sold out almost every one of the 4,000 seats in the Colosseum.
Although not official yet, it is expected that Bette Midler and Cher will be announced as replacements for 2008.
The other show closure notice was more of a surprise when the folks at Mandalay Bay announced that "Mamma Mia!," the Broadway hit musical featuring the music of ABBA, would shut down after more than five years and 2,300 performances. Now if you're a knowledgeable Vegas or ABBA fan you might note that at this particular juncture of time we're at about four years and just past 1,500 performances and wonder about the discrepancy. That's because the announcement of the show closure was quite early, with the final bow not expected until late summer 2008.
No word on what will replace the show but most expect yet another Cirque du Soleil production of some type.
Bye Barbary, Hello Bill
Gaming regulators approved the land transfer between Harrah's Entertainment and Boyd Gaming that will turn control of the Barbary Coast over to the former and the vacant plot of land where the Westward Ho once stood to the latter. But since Boyd Gaming owns the Coast branding, things have to change at the Barbary, including a whole new name.
Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon will be the new moniker going up on the building around the end of this month, an homage to Harrah's founder Bill Harrah. The property will shut down for a couple of days and then reopen with the new name on the signs. For now, don't expect too many other changes, except perhaps the exit of a dining establishment for greener pastures (just a rumor at this point). Harrah's probably won't dump a ton of money into doing anything else to the hotel since it is almost a given that they intend to knock it down when they finally get started on whatever it is they have planned for their Center Strip casinos.
New Owner for Sahara
The venerable Sahara got a long overdue bit of potentially good news last week when a group of investors, led by an experienced hotel and nightclub impresario, completed a long in the works sale of the hotel.
Sam Nazarian is a name that most Vegas visitors won't be familiar with, but people who travel in the swank circles of Los Angeles or Miami may know his Le Meridien and Ritz Plaza (respectively) or have partied at one of his nightclubs. Nazarian will run the Sahara, leading a private equity firm who put up the majority of the cash for the sale, which was rumored to be in the $400 million range.
What Nazarian plans to do with the hotel is still a question mark since he is not commenting on plans until the sale is 100% final. Oblique comments in the local Vegas papers suggest that the hotel itself will remain but will probably get a top to bottom overhaul that will aim to turn it into a competitor for the hip and trendy crowd currently dominated by places like The Palms or the Hard Rock. Whether it retains The Sahara moniker is also unknown.
Stardust Implosion Set
By the time many of you get around to reading this item, the Stardust will be history. The implosion of the hotel tower was scheduled for Tuesday, March 13th, in the wee hours of the morning and done so with virtually no advance notice and absolutely no fanfare.
Or at least that was the story they told. Turns out there was quite a bit of fanfare, with a fireworks show, lights on the side of the tower counting down to the implosion, and much of the attendant hoopla that used to accompany this sort of thing.
It used to be that implosions were big deals, with television coverage and giant block parties designed to build exciting for whatever was going to replace whatever was coming down. But the last few hotels that have come down have been more staid affairs, with hotel operators preferring to do things quietly (or as quietly as you can get when blowing up a building) and in the middle of the night for a variety of reasons. The primary one they'll say is the costs involved in having a public spectacle. The more people that show up to watch the more security they have to pay for to keep the crowds contained and big spectacles would require street closures and the kind of coordination that just isn't worth the headache to most hotel operators.
Show News & Notes
As had been widely rumored, Cirque du Soleil announced their next production will be a magic themed show at Luxor featuring Criss Angel. The show will not open until 2008 and details were scarce about what it will actually be (except for the typical "things you've never seen before" kind of rhetoric), but the dreamy Cirque style and Angel's cutting edge illusions seem like a good match. Angel is best known for his "Mindfreak" series on A&E and has been taping several new episodes in and around Las Vegas.
The Tony-Award winning musical "Spamalot" will have its official premiere on March 31 at Wynn Las Vegas. The show is based on the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and features John O'Hurley, most often referred to as that J. Peterman guy from "Seinfeld" or the one that was robbed on "Dancing with the Stars" depending on your TV viewing habits.
Tickets are now on sale for the new "Stomp Out Loud" production slated to begin in April at Planet Hollywood/Aladdin. The production, billed as being a larger (and presumably louder) version of the off-Broadway hit featuring people creating music and dance with "found objects" like trash can lids, will open in a new theater for previews on March 24 with an official opening date of April 17.
The other upcoming show at Planet Hollywood, "Hans Klok - The Beauty of Magic" featuring Carmen Electra, is also selling tickets now. Preview performances begin at the end of April with the full premiere happening May 17.
Finally, The Scintas show at The Sahara will be closing in mid-May although the group is reportedly in negotiations to move to a new venue. Long time readers will know of my, uh, "special" relationship with this show and I only have one word to say about this bit of news: Topeka.
Michael Jackson Makes My Day
Writing about Las Vegas is rarely boring, but sometimes things can get a bit staid. Sure, there's the occasional bit of wackiness that you'll only find in Sin City and with the amount of money that flows through this place you're guaranteed to find at least something interesting to talk about, but usually it's a lot of the same about hotels opening, shows closing, and restaurants serving.
But then Michael Jackson moved to town.
As a part of the career rejuvenation he is seeking, Jackson is attempting to set up an extended run show like Celine Dion's at a Vegas hotel. It was leaked last week that if the show goes forward, Michael Jackson wants to build a 50-foot robot version of himself that will walk around the desert outside of the city and emit laser beams from its head.
There's not one single bit of that sentence that doesn't make me happy.
According to several reports designs have been drawn up and Jackson is ready to go as soon as he can find a hotel showroom willing to host him.
So of course the question becomes this: will it really happen?
Actually the real question involves theories about just how crazy he is and whether or not someone like that should be allowed to have a giant laser-beam robot under his control, but I'll stick to more Vegas-centric questions. The answer is, much like a lot of big things planned for Vegas, probably not.
MGM Moves North
You'd think spending more than $7 billion to build a huge complex of hotels, condos, casinos, and more on The Strip would be enough for MGM Mirage, but apparently not.
The company recently announced that it was spending $575 million to acquire a series of parcels at the far north end of The Strip that includes the vacant plot of land across from The Sahara and the land that was supposedly going to be the site of a proposed Maxim hotel and casino. The land adjoins the acreage that is home to their Circus-Circus property and gives them about 100 acres total to play with for future development.
If you're trying to envision where this is, just north of Circus-Circus is a small Travelodge motel - that is not included in this land deal, but just past that is a gas station that will go bye-bye and then all the land behind and to the north of the Sky condominium tower and the Hilton time-shares up to Sahara Avenue.
So what do they plan on doing with all that land? Build another massive complex of hotels and casinos eventually, of course.
It's way too early for anyone to be getting specific but considering the fact that CityCenter, the aforementioned $7.4 billion project underway between Monte Carlo and Bellagio, is on 66 acres, the 100 acres of dirt they have here could see something even bigger and more expensive. Expect at least one new large hotel-casino plus a series of smaller boutique hotels, residential developments, and more.
The MGM Mirage folks did say that whatever the development wound up being it would include a major refurbishment of the aging Circus-Circus property that would probably involve them getting rid of the low-rise motel buildings out back and the RV park.
Like Magic: Carmen Out, Pam In
Illusionist Hans Klok has nothing to complain about really. I mean when you have a big Vegas show coming up and Carmen Electra drops out only to be replaced by Pamela Anderson... well, there are worse things that could happen, I suppose.
Electra's departure comes after various local media reports of tension behind the scenes between her and just about everyone it seems. The word "meltdown" was bandied about with aplomb and of course I would never use such a term without actually being a witness to it. Doesn't stop me from repeating it though.
I guess you don't get to be a billionaire by being dumb.
The billionaire in question, Carl Icahn, has added about another billion to his wallet after announcing last week that he was selling his Nevada casinos including The Stratosphere, both Arizona Charlie's, and the Aquarius in Laughlin. The total price tag? About $1.3 billion or roughly about a billion more than what he purchased those properties for over the last decade or so.
The purchasers are yet another vaguely named private equity fund, Whitehall Street Real Estate Funds. These folks are no strangers to Vegas, currently owning a 40% stake in the Las Vegas Hilton.
Bette Midler to Replace Celine Dion
It's official: the Diva has left the building; long live The Divine.
Bette Midler will be one of the headliners set to replace Celine Dion after her show at Caesars Palace ends this December. Midler's shows will start in February of 2008 and will happen in four week stints throughout the year, totally up to around 100 shows.
Elton John will continue to perform at the Colosseum as well and there are still unconfirmed rumors that Cher may become the third spoke in this particular wheel.
Don't bother - I've already made all the jokes.
The Divine Miss M's show will run about 90 minutes with ticket prices ranging from $95 to $250. They are already on sale for next February and most of the really good seats for the first set of dates are already gone. Trust me, I looked. And yes, I already bought tickets but not, disappointingly, to opening night. I'm going the second night and will make it my mission to make friends with everyone at Caesars Palace between now and then to score tickets to the big first show.
Caesars Palace is the best hotel and casino in the entire galaxy.
W is for Washed Up
The highly anticipated W Hotel and Residences project apparently wasn't as highly anticipated as some people originally thought. The $2.5 billion project that had been planned on Harmon Avenue just east of The Strip has been cancelled.
Originally intended to open in 2008, the W was going to include a hotel, condominiums, a casino, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping, and more spread across 22 acres at the corner of Harmon and Koval, about a block behind Planet Hollywood. It would've been right next door to Las Ramblas, the multi-billion hotel and condo project that was partially backed by actor George Clooney, but when Las Ramblas folded before a shovel full of earth was turned the land was snapped up by the W folks in anticipation of building even more than they originally planned.
Now one of the minority partners in the proposed development, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, has pulled out of the W project and without them it can't move forward. All of the deposits collected for the non-existent condos have been returned according to a company spokesperson.
Frontier Sold, To Close This Summer
The venerable Frontier, the oldest continually operating hotel and casino on The Strip, has been sold and will close as soon as July of 2007.
The price tag on the building and its land was eye-popping: approximately $1.2 billion. That puts the price per acre at around $33 million, about 50% higher than what land on The Strip had been going for. Keep in mind that the days aren't too far gone when $1.2 billion was a lot of money to actually build a whole new place.
But the company that bought the hotel, Israeli based Elad Group, plans to spend another $4 billion or so to build the Frontier's replacement, a version of the historic New York's Plaza, a building they already own and are spending millions to overhaul. There is no detail yet on whether the Vegas Plaza will be a replica visually or in spirit and name only but it will be significantly bigger with more than 3,500 hotel rooms and 300 super-exclusive condominiums. And of course instead of Eloise there will be a casino, shopping, restaurants, entertainment, and all of the other usual stuff that goes along with a casino of this size.
Could Elvis Replace the Riviera?
The bidding continues on The Riviera but the people behind the bidding just got a little more interesting last week with the announcement that the CKX entertainment group was paying $100 million for a 50% stake in FX Luxury Realty.
Why is that interesting? Because CKX is the company that owns the licensing rights to everything Elvis Presley and FX Luxury Realty is part of one of the groups that is currently trying to buy the The Riviera.
That groups $34 per share offer is the latest and highest so far for the company that owns The Riviera and CKX's involvement seems to indicate that they want to move forward on an Elvis themed hotel and casino, long-rumored for Vegas.
In addition to Elvis, CKX also owns the licensing rights to the names and images of Muhammad Ali and "American Idol" so this could wind up being one really interesting (or really scary) resort if it ever comes to pass.
Big Bucks for Fontainebleau
It's been talked about for years but it looks like the Fontainebleau project is finally going to move forward with the announcement that the company behind the resort has secured more than $4 billion in financing. Although early stabs at construction on the property, located at the former El Rancho site just north of The Riviera, began in February, it wasn't until this line of credit was secured that people really believed there would ever actually be a real building there. The Fontainebleau will be modeled after the famed Miami resort of the same name and will feature nearly 4,000 rooms, a casino, a theater, restaurants, convention space, and more with a price tag estimated to be in the $3 billion range. The rest of the line of credit will go toward sprucing up the Miami hotel at the same time. The Vegas version is currently set for a late 2009 bow.
Echelon Breaks Ground
The official ground breaking of the new Echelon Place resort occurred last week, brining with it some more details, a first look, and a higher price tag.
Originally expected to cost in the neighborhood of just over $4 billion, the project is now expected to run more like $4.8 billion. Eh, what's a couple hundred million dollars between friends?
The project will cover more than 80 acres on the land once occupied by The Stardust and the Westward Ho. It will include:
Shooting at New York-New York Injures Five
A man armed with a semi-automatic handgun opened fire inside the New York-New York casino leaving five people with minor injuries.
Authorities identified the man as 51-year-old Steven Francis Zegrean, a Hungarian immigrant who was reportedly despondent over personal and professional problems.
The shooting occurred at around quarter to one in the morning on Friday, July 6 when Zegrean, wearing a trenchcoat and carrying the weapon plus extra ammunition, entered the casino from the pedestrian bridge crossing to MGM Grand. He walked to the top of the escalators leading down into the casino and begin firing. More than a dozen rounds were reportedly expended.
Four people were grazed by bullets, fragments, or shrapnel including a teenage boy from California. A fifth person was bruised when she fell as people stampeded away from the gunfire, leaping over slot machines and upending tables in the process.
A 24-year-old Iraq war veteran, Justin Lampert, was eating nearby when the shooting began and he reacted quickly, tackling Zegrean before he could do any more serious harm. Three more men helped to subdue the shooter before security and police arrived.
Lampert has been hailed as a hero, but he is demurring the honors saying in several published reports that the only reason he did it is because he was drunk at the time.
Sunday, July 15, was just another day in Vegas, it seemed, except for the fact that it was another notch in the belt of history for the city as the final day for the Strip's oldest continually operating hotel, The Frontier.
It was second major resort in the area, opening in 1942, just a year after El Rancho Las Vegas started luring people out of Glitter Gulch to the arid stretch of desert that would eventually become The Strip. But up until Sunday it had done something that few other Las Vegas hotels have managed to do: survive for decades.
Dubai Doubles Down
The Middle Eastern nation of Dubai has struck another deal with MGM Mirage that will create a multi-national partnership on a multi-billion resort. One of Dubai's corporate arms, Istithmar Hotels FZE will invest in a project planned for the corner of Sahara and The Strip - a project that had already been announced as a partnership between MGM Mirage and South Africa's Kerzner International Holdings. The 40-acre plot of land across from The Sahara will get a major resort hotel by 2012 designed and developed by Kerzner (most famous for The Atlantis hotel in The Bahamas) that will be co-owned by the three companies.
This comes just a few weeks after the announcement that Dubai was buying a big chunk of MGM Mirage stock and purchasing 50% of the upcoming CityCenter project from the company.
Harrah's & Rio Rooms Closed
It started out fairly small but still surprising: two entire floors of one of the towers at the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino were shut down by the county when it was alleged that the proper permits were never filed to cover remodeling work done between 2004 and 2006. Due to safety concerns the rooms were emptied so inspectors could check the work to make sure it was all up to code. The next week Harrah's Entertainment, which owns The Rio, voluntarily shut down almost 600 rooms at Harrah's on the Las Vegas Strip over similar concerns.
As of this writing those rooms remained closed at Harrah's as do the two floors of rooms at The Rio. In addition another entire wing of The Rio was closed temporarily while workers made some quick repairs to work that had been done during the remodeling that could've resulted in a dangerous situation in the event of a fire.
At this point the issue seems to be confined to those two hotels but with the constant construction and non-stop remodeling projects that are happening at hotels up and down The Strip there is a concern that there could be more problems elsewhere. County officials are reportedly taking a long hard look at every hammer swing to make sure that none of the fancy redecoration has caused unsafe conditions at the hotels.
Tigers Take a Final Bow
One of the oldest and most popular free attractions on The Strip has closed and with that closure comes yet another sign of the changing face of Las Vegas.
The White Tiger Habitat at The Mirage was shut down quietly last week, drawing a curtain on the attraction that had been bringing curious visitors to the glass enclosed exhibit since the hotel opened in 1989. The habitat housed the famed white tigers that used to star in Siegfried and Roy's show at the hotel before one of them decided to "play" with Roy during a show.
By the way, in case you're thinking that last sentence was not in the best of taste, you should see the ten sentences that I deleted first.
My Life Near the A-List
In general, I'm not the kind of guy that you'll see at parties filled with celebrities, wealth, and beauty. I'm the guy that gets dirty looks from the security guards at the velvet ropes.
But this past weekend I was invited to party with the stars at the grand opening celebration for the new Planet Hollywood resort and casino, and while I may not have walked away best friends with Bruce Willis, I did manage to get into most of the big events and get glimpses of the famous faces in the crowd. Most of the time they were being whisked in the other direction by security, but hey - I saw them.
I was all wrapped up in the big Planet Hollywood opening that I didn't get around to talking about the Frontier's final bow. Better late than never, right?
The historic but much faded hotel was imploded on November 13 at around 2:30 in the morning, with a blaze of fireworks heralding a return to the more "showy" implosions of days yore. Despite the wee hours of the morning timing, thousands of people found places to watch the spectacle from nearby parking structures, hotels, and roads.
No "Springtime for Hitler"
Or at least, not spring of 2008 because the Vegas version of the Tony Award-winning musical "The Producers" is going to be closing in February after a year at Paris Las Vegas. The Broadway musical from Mel Brooks, about a pair of Broadway musical producers who scheme to put on the worst show ever (hence the Hitler reference), never seemed to find its sea legs here in the Vegas desert. That's unsurprising considering the show played for years on the Great White Way, had endless touring versions, and even a movie adaptation starring Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane.
Palazzo Opening In Stages
Planning on being in Vegas for the opening of Palazzo on December 20? I am, but we're only going to be able to see a portion of the hotel on that date as the $1.6 billion resort opens in stages over the course of several months.
On the 20th the casino and other public areas will open to the masses but if you want to stay there you'll have to wait until New Year's Eve weekend. Rooms are not available for rental until December 28th.
2007 Top 10 Hotels