SLS Las Vegas: Pretty pictures and propaganda

By David McKee ~ May 18th, 2012 @ 1:44 pm

To celebrate the first anniversary of his cold-blooded, premeditated murder of the Sahara, nightclub owner Sam Nazarian trotted out freshly hired casino boss Rob Oseland, along with some models (no, not of the runway ilk) and even a rendering that one can find on the SLS Las Vegas Web site. As Chuck Monster reports, NASCAR Café will become “The Bazaar by José Andres” (whatever happened to the beer-garden idea?), which is a big step up, for certain. And, at Katsuya, you’ll be able to eat al fresco on the Las Vegas Strip, flavoring your sushi with the fumes from passing RTC buses and mobile billboards — the latter being a pestilence unleashed upon our city by Tom Letizia, an oleaginous local ad man, dampening the letizia of many, local and tourist alike.

Taking a gander at the model, the most striking aspect of the new Sahara, er, SLS LV is how much it resembles the old Sahara. If you’re fond of the onion-dome porte-cochere or the neon marquee, have a good look at them now, because they’re goners. The gently-curved, low-rise entrance envisioned for SLS is a throwback to the look of the early Sahara and other Strip pioneers. (Two huge, silver phalluses will flank the front door. Make of that what you will.) It’s more atmospheric than the northwest façade, which is generic Rodeo Drive retail frontage, writ large.”Generic” would also be an excellent description of the new, slab-like marquee, just like umpteen others along the Strip. Imagine the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but colored sandstone and accessorized with a video screen.

(Will it be surrounded by agitated, bone-wielding apes? No, wait, that’s Nazarian’s customer base!)

From 2010: Four minutes of SBE (and douchebags) but no mention of the Sahara. Funny that.

A rootop (nudie?) pool will be added, next to the flyloft of the showroom. Speaking of the latter, it will be interesting to see if Oseland or Nazarian has any ideas for fixing that space, one of the most dysfunctionally configured theaters in Vegas — or anywhere else for that matter.

What’s in? A new, larger parking garage and the 200-room hotel tower that Sahara Sam had previously targeted for demolition, though he’s going to stick a big dorsal fin atop it, which will at least improve its aerodynamic capabilities. All the hotel towers will be denuded of their Moroccan accoutrements and modestly re-clad, their balconies encased in glass. (No Cosmopolitan-style suicides at SLS!)

What’s out? The Strip-side hotel tower that Nazarian pitched to Clark County in 2008, along with a Sahara Avenue tower (left) that he was showing off to Heidi Montag on The Hills way back when people like me still took him seriously. The buffet/Congo Room portion of the Sahara remains intact, though it looks like it’s going to be repurposed as convention space — just a guess. If all this sounds modest, Oseland and The Naz have to hit $150/night ADRs, if they can get them, in order to make their $744 million re-do pencil out — especially with a low reliance on casino revenue. For his part, Oseland has diagnosed The Cosmopolitan‘s insuperable problem, namely trying to reinvent the Vegas resort experience within an elephantine budget that renders success impossible. He’s basically out to prove it can be done, if costs are contained.

So desperate for anything resembling the “next big thing” (I guess you could call it megaresort addiction) are we that the Las Vegas Sun sent a reporter to “shill the joint,” as Oseland (right) would put it. (Sample copy: “the north end of the Strip could explode in the next two years … Adding to the potential is SLS’ rich brand of luxury properties in Beverly Hills,” etc. Who writes such drivel?) The urban legend of Nazarian raising $300 million in two weeks got another airing, too.

But ex-Wynn Resorts exec Oseland spoke gospel truth when he characterized SLS LV as a “first step” toward North Strip renewal. He also likened Nazarian to former boss Steve Wynn, which sounds less like a compliment to the former than a dig at the latter, who pink-slipped him in favor of Marilyn (Winn) Spiegel. However, when says, “I’ve learned over the years is that bigger isn’t always better in Vegas,” it’s an epiphany you wish many of his colleagues would learn.

Going off the deep end — or the high place — was Stratosphere GM Paul Hobson, who sounded totally off his rocker when likened the Sahara/Las Vegas Boulevard intersection to the “Four Corners” area where Caesars Palace, Bellagio, Bally’s Las Vegas and Barbary Coast Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall stand sentry duty. Two of the Sahara’s three adjacent street corners are in the City of Las Vegas, where casino owners and hoteliers are loath to develop. (It’s a tax thing.) Hanging off in isolation, Hobson might understandably wish “that [Four Corners] dynamic is at play here,” but let’s not get carried away. And Smilin’ Sammy Naz is no Steve Wynn.

Let’s also not forget that Nazarian still needs $115 million in offshore funding to make this thing float, perhaps with the help of some Mideast petrocrats. Also, not to burst Oseland’s bubble, but developers do have options that aren’t at the north end of the Strip. His old stomping grounds, Wynncore is surrounded by vast land tracts owned by El-Ad Properties and Triple Five, acreage that’s either going underutilized or totally unused. And, when Boyd Gaming is ready to downsize and resume Echelon, it’s going to have a lot of surplus dirt where Morgans Hotel Group and General Growth Properties were scheduled to build. And the problems that are Archon Corp.’s vacant lot and the corpse of F-blew can’t simply be wished away … much as we might like.

There’s just one (more) little thing: The Naz flushed his customer database into MGM Resorts International’s M Life one and herded his older Sahara customers over to Circus Circus, part of the Faustian fact which got his Hyde hangout into Bellagio. Which means that SLS is starting from scratch when it comes to customer recruitment. MGM might suddenly feel charitable and send some of those SBE nightclub crawlers back Nazarian’s way … but I don’t think so.

Update: Oseland’s show-and-tell inspired this jaundiced remark from blackjacker1979, over on VegasTripping.com: “The Des Moines, IA airport Hilton is really coming along.”

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