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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
February 16, 2015
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Famed Vegas Architect Dies
You may not have heard of the name Jon Jerde but if you're a Vegas fan you most certainly know his work. He was the architect who designed the original pirate-intensive version of Treasure Island, the game-changing Bellagio, and the Fremont Street Experience. Jerde died last week in Los Angeles at the age of 75.
9. Palms Dropping Traditional Room Service
One of my favorite things to do in Vegas is order room service late at night. Yes, the food is overpriced and often not all that great, but there's just something decadent about the experience of having a waiter bring you a nice cart with linens and silverware and all the accompaniments. I guess I won't be doing that at The Palms. The hotel is getting rid of their traditional room service and replacing it with more of a delivery style model, in which your meal will arrive in disposable containers and paper bags with plastic utensils. The food will come from their 24-hour cafe and includes the usual breakfasts, burgers, and simple entrees. Read more about The Palms.
8. Rod Stewart Celebrates 100th Show at Caesars
Rocker turned crooner Rod Stewart marked the occasion of his 100th show at Caesars Palace last week with a bevy of showgirls by his side. The dancers from Jubilee! at sister hotel Bally's made a surprise appearance on stage with Stewart while he performed his version of "Twisting the Night Away." This is the fourth year of Stewart's "residency" at Caesars, which sees him performing about 25 shows a year at The Colosseum. Read the review of Jubilee!
7. Historic Vegas House For Sale
A house at 972 Vegas Valley Drive has gone on the market that is conjuring up the sordid history of Las Vegas in a big way. The 3-bedroom house used to belong to Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, the notorious mafia figure who ran several Vegas hotels including the Stardust and The Hacienda, and was played by Robert DeNiro in the film "Casino." The house has hidden compartments for guns, soundproof rooms, and bullet proof glass complete with a chip that is, allegedly, from a bullet. The price for this colorful bit of Vegas past? $777,000, of course. Check out the listing and the pictures at the link below. See the listing with pictures on Realtor.com.
6. Duck Dynasty Musical Premiere Set
The musical based on the hit reality show "Duck Dynasty" is now set to debut at The Rio on April 20, and yes that's a sentence that I never would've believed I would be writing. The Duck Commander Musical tells the story of the rags to riches tail of the rough and tumble Robertson family, who built a duck call empire. It has been endorsed by the Robertson clan and features all original music and is being staged by the same theater company that did The Who's Tommy, Matilda The Musical, and Jersey Boys. Tickets are on sale now. Read more about The Rio.
5. Physical Skill Based Gaming Approved in NJ
Gambling is about to get a lot more physical in New Jersey after the state approved the concept of wagers based on physical skill. The Borgata in Atlantic City is planning to have a basketball free-throw contest where participants will pay $20 to get a chance to work their way through a bracket style tournament until someone comes out on top. The winner will get $5,000. The crucial difference here is that the chances of winning are based on skill instead of blind luck like most gambling (slot machines, blackjack, etc.). It'll be interesting to see if this comes to Vegas. Stay tuned.
4. Tickets On Sale for Non-Existent Vegas Hockey Team
The big new arena under construction behind New York-New York and Monte Carlo is intended to host concerts and special events but the people behind it are hoping to also lure Las Vegas' first professional sports team to make it their home and to do so they are selling tickets to a franchise that doesn't exist. The backers of the arena have announced a plan with the National Hockey League to gauge interest in bringing a new pro-hockey team to Vegas by opening season ticket sales now. If 10,000 season passes are sold, the NHL will consider a new Vegas franchise although selling that number of tickets doesn't guarantee a team and not selling them doesn't preclude it. Tickets range from $150-$900 per year depending on where you sit for the season that would start in 2106. Visit VegasWantsHockey.net for more information.
3. Vegas Soccer Stadium Proposal Dead
After months of maneuvering a plan to bring a professional soccer team to Vegas appears to be dead after Major League Soccer announced that the city would not get one of the planned 2017 or 2018 expansion franchises. The city and various developers had been working hard to get a soccer stadium off the ground but got mired in politics when it became apparent that the only way to do it would be with city money. A ballot initiative had qualified to put it up to a citywide vote but that appears to be moot for now. The stadium would have been built in the Symphony Park area near The Smith Center.
2. Measles Case at Emeril's MGM Grand
A worker at Emeril's restaurant at the MGM Grand has been confirmed with a case of the measles. It's the fourth case of measles in Las Vegas this year and the first adult who had broad exposure to large groups of people. In addition to working at the restaurant, the worker attended the Las Vegas Pet Expo over the weekend. Anyone who ate at the restaurants between February 4-7 or attended the expo is encouraged to review their vaccinations and contact their doctor if they aren't fully protected. Even if full vaccinations are present, anyone exposed should be hyper-vigilant for symptoms, which include rashes and fever and usually manifest within three weeks of contact.
1. Outlet Mall Expansion to Open in May
The Las Vegas Premium Outlets North near Downtown is a destination shopping mall for many Vegas visitors, lured by the steep discounts at brand name stores, many of which fall on the luxury end of the spectrum like Dolce & Gabbana and Burberry. In May there will be even more reasons for shoppers to get excited as the complex opens another 150,000 square-feet of retail heaven. Twenty new stores will open including a Neiman Marcus outlet and a two-story Saks Off 5th along with outlets from designers Carolina Herrera, Diane von Furstenberg, and Helmut Lang. There will also be a new Cheesecake Factory to add to the dining options. Read more about the Las Vegas Premium Outlets.
Riviera Closing in May?
2/17/15 UPDATE: The rumors have been confirmed and the hotel will close this summer. More details in next week's column.
The rumors surrounding the future of The Riviera are heating up with new details being leaked about a possible sale, a surprising buyer, and a potential date with a wrecking ball.
The original version of the scuttlebutt suggested that another casino company was going to buy The Riv and either drastically remodel and rebrand it or tear it down and start over on a new hotel-casino.
The new version of the gossip suggests that the potential new owner is the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, who manage the Las Vegas Convention Center on Paradise Road right behind The Riviera.
Last year, the LVCVA announced plans for a major $2.3 billion expansion that would more than double the available convention space and turn Convention Center Drive, just south of The Riv, into a bustling entertainment district. Although short on specifics, the plan was to partner with private developers to create a mini-neighborhood of boutique hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, and more.
What wasn't clear was where they were going to put another big chunk of convention space. Factor in The Riviera rumors and it starts to make a little more sense. Insiders are suggesting that the LVCVA will tear down the hotel and replace it with a new convention facility, the first right on The Strip and the only one not associated with a major hotel.
The timing is rumored to go something like this: announcement in March, close in May, and the bulldozers (and possible implosions) start in June with the new facility going online in late 2016 or early 2017.
If all of this comes to pass and the May closure date winds up being true, it will occur just after the hotel marks its 60th anniversary.
The spring of 1955 was a busy time for Las Vegas as four major hotels opened within a month of each other. The Royal Nevada debuted on April 19, The Riviera one day later on April 20, and The Dunes and Moulin Rouge both coming online in May.
Liberace provided the entertainment for the opening and beyond for which he got an insane-for-the-times $50,000 a week, making him the highest paid entertainer in the world. Joan Crawford was the official greeter and was paid $10,000 for four days work saying hello to people. Keep in mind that in 1955 the average salary in the US was about $5,000, and that was for an entire year!
The hotel had 291 rooms and a Miami South Beach feeling that was much more subtle than originally intended. The small casino, which only had a handful of tables and about 100 slot machines, was done in a what we now call mid-century modern. There was also a 700-seat showroom and dinner theater called The Clover Room, several restaurants, an Olympic sized swimming pool, and more.
It struggled immediately, sinking into bankruptcy just three months after it opened. Unfortunately for The Riv, it wouldn't be the last time the hotel went bankrupt. It headed into chapter 11 in 1984, 1991, and again in 2010. After the last one, Starwood Capital Group, a private investment firm, rode in to rescue the property and take over the management. They threw some money into it, redoing some of the rooms, putting in a new sports book and bingo hall, and updating some of the casino and other public areas, but the bulk of the Riviera is pretty much the same as it has been for the better part of the last 30 years. Once considered to be the pinnacle of Vegas luxury, it is now considered to be a bargain hotel with room rates as low as $25 during the week.
Clarion Implosion Goes Awry
The former Clarion hotel had a date with dynamite last week but apparently it wasn't ready to go down without a fight. While the bulk of the building collapsed as planned, an elevator tower refused to fall down, leaving a leaning, 8-story high chunk of concrete sticking up like a giant middle finger.
Here's the video:
The company responsible for the implosion explained that debris at the base of the elevator shaft piled up quicker than expected in such a way that basically braced the tower and kept it from falling down. They had performed 12 successful such demolitions in the past without incident. Yes, that's right... this was their 13th demolition, so perhaps it is not surprising that it went awry.
The next day a crane came in to remove the last, stubborn remaining bits. They basically put a big cable around the elevator shaft and tugged on it until it fell down.
The hotel opened in 1970 as a branch of the Royal Inns of America, a chain of several dozen hotels in the southwest United States started by hotelier Earl Gagosian. Located just off The Strip on Convention Center Drive, the $3 million hotel had 200 rooms that were marketed both to tourists and business travelers. The small casino had a few dozen slots and a couple of table games.
Michael Gaughan, the son of legendary casino magnate Jackie Gaughan, bought the casino portion of the property in 1972. He acted as the de facto manager of the property until 1979 when it was purchased by fast food operator Horn & Hardt, most famous for their Automat chain. Gaughan used the proceeds to open the Barbary Coast on The Strip and later built up the Coast Casino chain that included The Orleans and Suncoast among others.
The new owners sunk several million dollars into a project to redo the hotel. It was expanded by 100 rooms, remodeled with a New York theme, and rebranded as the Royal Americana. But the early 1980s were not kind to Las Vegas and the hotel closed in 1982. Horn and Hardt tried to sell it but couldn't find a qualified buyer so they wound up remodeling it again and reopening it in the as the Paddlewheel Hotel & Casino.
The new version of the property had a kid-friendly theme complete with games and rides but that didn't last long. By the time they added an a drag revue, it was pretty clear that the hotel had a new direction. Neither strategy worked and the company shuttered the building and put it up for sale in 1990.
Entertainer Debbie Reynolds stepped in and bought the property at an auction in 1992. Her and her husband had big plans for the hotel, wanting to add a Hollywood memorabilia museum and a 500-seat showroom where Reynolds could perform. But financing for the renovations were complicated and the hotel reopened in 1993 with pretty much only a new name - the Debbie Reynolds Hotel & Casino - and a fresh coat of paint. The memorabilia museum finally opened in 1994 after she raised money in a public shareholder offering but the big, new showroom never materialized.
The casino, which had been managed by another company, closed in 1996 and the hotel fell into bankruptcy and closed the following year.
In 1998, the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) bought the hotel with plans to tear it down and build a wrestling-themed hotel and casino. It was going to have a 35-story room tower, a huge arena for matches, and multiple restaurants and bars. They even went so far as to strip the property of most of the interior details in preparation for demolition but then changed their mind and sold it to a Chicago real estate firm. The excuse the WWF used at the time was that they decided the land wasn't big enough to support the plans but most analysts believed that they were spooked by how high the costs of building a major resort in Vegas had risen, with a billion dollars being pretty standard for the time.
The hotel reopened in 2001 as The Greek Isles, with a cheesy Greecian theme, a tiny casino, and some low-rent shows. It was purchased in 2007 by a real estate developer who planned to knock it down and start over but that plan was sidelined by the global recession that hit the following year. The hotel sank into bankruptcy and closed again.
It reopened under the Clarion brand, part of the Choice Hotels chain that includes Comfort Inn, Econolodge, and Rodeway Inn.
The hotel closed in September of 2014 and was purchased by real estate developer Lorenzo Doumani, whose family has a long history in Vegas. His uncle managed The Tropicana in the 1970s and the family owned the La Concha motel on The Strip, the lobby of which is now the welcome center for the Neon Museum in Downtown Las Vegas.
Doumani has not gotten too specific on what he intends to build on the land once the rubble is cleared away. All that he will confirm at this point is that it will be a hotel but will not have a casino.
There is no timeline on when construction will begin or when the new hotel will open.
Show Review: Jeff Dunham
I'm going to start with a controversial statement: If I had to pick what I consider to be the best character ever in the history of television it would not be Lucy Ricardo or Walter White or Buffy Summers or Daryl Dixon, it would be Bob, the dummy featured on the 1977-1981 ABC sitcom "Soap." Voiced by ventriloquist Jay Johnson, Bob was a genius bit of insanity in a totally crazy show, often saying all of the outrageous things we wished we could say and becoming so "human" that it was easy to forget he wasn't real.
Look closely and you can see Bob as an ancestor to several of ventriloquist Jeff Dunham's characters as featured in his resident show at Planet Hollywood.
First, a bit of background about Jeff Dunham. He is the top grossing stand-up comedian of all time according to Pollstar, has had six Comedy Central specials including the most-watched ever with his A Very Special Christmas, and was called "America's favorite comedian" by Slate.com. His zany puppet friends and some of their catch phrases have become staples in American pop culture - say "I keel you!" to just about anyone (especially those in the south or Midwest) and they're probably going to know what you are referencing.
Dunham's characters are a diverse lot and include the curmudgeon old man Walter, the dimwitted Bubba J, the goofy purple oddity known as Peanut, the laconic Jose Jalapeno on a Stick, and Achmed the Dead Terrorist among others. All of them share a certain inappropriate humor and lack of social graces that walk a fine line (and sometimes trips over it) between audacious and offensive. Pretty much every ethnic and social group is skewered here, sometimes with what can be described as insightful commentary and sometimes with what can only be called ugly stereotypes, but there's something about it coming from a puppet that makes even the most awful of it a little more palatable, which is exactly what made Bob on "Soap" such a success.
It's worth noting that there is a definitely a conservative bent to most of the humor so overly sensitive liberals may want to consider heading somewhere else. Then again I am an overly sensitive liberal and I made it through with a pretty good laugh to cringe ratio so take from that what you will.
About half of the show is scripted and the rest is made up on the spot and it's these improvised bits that are the most successful. During the show I saw, Dunham (through his proxy Walter) started picking on a poor guy in the front row that was a realtor from less-than-scenic Victorville, California. "What's the average price of a house there?" Walter asked and then answered for him, "Ten grand? If it has wheels?" Said realtor got more than his fair share of razzing from Dunham's puppet pals as did a few other people in the audience - don't get up to go to the bathroom during the show if you don't want to be a target.
Dunham even used a random shout from an audience member as an excuse to call his friend Bruce Jenner from the stage. It was very strange but funny and delightfully off-the-cuff.
There's a reason why Dunham is so popular - he knows his craft, he knows his audience, and he knows when to not take things too seriously. Bob would be proud.
Vegas Dominates Top Nightclub List
One look at a contemporary Vegas casino will probably tell you that nightclubs are a major driving force behind them these days. Every major hotel has at least one and their influence is spreading far beyond the dance floor, with design, amenities, and even the gambling areas themselves becoming an extension of the nightlife experience.
If you wonder why, all you have to do is look at the latest list of the top-grossing nightclubs in the United States, published by Nightclub and Bar Media Group (nightclub.com). Once again Vegas is ruling the list, with 17 of the top 100 nightclubs in Sin City, more than any other city in the country. New York City only has eight in the top 100 and Los Angeles only has six.
Even more stunning, seven of the top ten are in Vegas including the ones that claimed the top four spots.
XS at Wynn Las Vegas is at the top of the heap for the fifth time in six years. It rang up an estimated $105 million is revenue in 2014, barely edging out Hakkasan at the MGM Grand, which came in at approximately $103 million.
The Cosmopolitan won the war in terms of number of party spots for 2014 with no fewer than four clubs and bars in the top 100. In addition to Marquee, they had Chandelier at #17 with $20 million and Bond Bar and Vesper in the 66th and 67th spots, both with around $10 million in revenue.
The Venetian and Palazzo had also had four entries on the list including the aforementioned Tao plus Lavo at #10 with $25 million, Lagasse's Stadium at #55 with about $10 million and The Bourbon Room at #68, also with about $10 million.
The remaining Vegas clubs that made the list include Hyde at Bellagio, which claimed #9 with $30 million; Chateau at Paris Las Vegas at #28 with $15 million; and ghostbar at The Palms at #48 with $10 million.