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Why The SLS Might Become Something...

By Blackjacker1979 on Monday, 24th June 2013 2:38pm
  » filed under Las Vegas  comments: 17


It's a very open secret that Sahara honcho Sam Nazarian's projects live in a cloud of media hype. From bit pieces about his growing nightclub empire to full on fluff (seemingly annual) LA Times featurette, it is evident that this "everyman" from a seriously wealthy background likes to have his toes dipped into the same pool that he used to party in. He touts nightlife and experiential hospitality as the new way, and he's constantly flushing out the LA scene to get the next "Hyde" clone open just in time for Paris Hilton (she's still relevant isn't she?) to stumble out and Lindsay Lohan to hit a photog on speeding away from the valet.

But the Sahara is different. When he took the SLS in 2007 and rode it through the roller coaster of shit that was the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, many were shocked and saddened to see the doors close, worrying that it was a sign that the property was dead for good. Everything down to the bedbugs was sold at auction, and the building was mothballed. But that all changed when long shot funding was finally secured enabling construction to roar life, spilling out the literal guts of the former Sahara bit by bit.

Now in full swing, with half the podium down to ground level and the towers being systematically dismantled, things are getting real. The SLS is no longer a mire of PR smoke and mirrors and boom-chicka-chicka renderings. And that is where things start to get interesting. Case in point:

SLS Sahara

Holy shit, that's a lot of building gone. Demolition for a remodel is one thing, but what's going on here to my eye is a lot more. In all renderings to date you can almost see the bones of the old Sahara holding up the hoot and flair of SBE's interior-designed skin. But what's going on here is much more, and with that in my opinion the game could seriously change.

Let me give you some scenarios.


Sure Sam and Co. could slap up a simple slot barn and put up some store fronts like its rendering. But why? At this point he's cleared the podium save a few elements that I'm guessing either tie into the basement or some other utility areas. What he's got, structure capable, is a blueprint for anything.

SBE and Gensler have to opportunity to create a building that has a presence. Imagine skylights, glass up to the property line, lots of natural light and pool views like Encore inviting you into a lobby overflowing with sunlight, exotic plants, knickknacks and monkey head chairs found in the SLS Beverly Hills connected to a casino whose flair extends beyond chandeliers and bespoke wallpaper to real structural pizazz. Who says Steve Wynn has to be the only one to design around the neighborhood framework.

And that's not where it stops. The hotel towers, with walls blown out and balconies stripped bare, can go way beyond the Starck designed prison chic that's on the plate. Balconies overlooking the pool? Possible. Bay windows allowing expansive views of the strip and mountains beyond? Why not. There's nothing stopping the design except his own limitation, and that's why these rooms could be more than Starck, but the next Encore with all the luxury and amenity that would actually draw people to the North Strip for a change. The bones are there, and that's why there's a lot more that could become of the SLS than just the shitty pop color renderings we've seen.

But who am I? Just an architect who drools over this stuff. But something tells me that we might end up with an SLS that's far more interesting than another remodeled Vegas hotel with no heart.

Tagged: sls   sahara   renovations   sam nazarian   sbe entertainment   north strip   


Comments & Discussion:

I hope you're right.

This would be nice, but in interviews I've seen and heard, he's shooting for the middle market, which he believes is under-served in Vegas, and hopes to get his share of conventioneers. So doesn't sound like rocket science to me.

Middle market doesn't have to be bland. As the Venetian is starting to prove through its floor renovations, middle market can be a welcoming and different environment for both gamers and conventioneers.

I just dont see this opening by end of 2014.

Does anyone know if the company has to re-do all their gaming, alcohol, and whatever other licenses' there are to operate a hotel/casino?

I can't speak for gaming, but if alcohol and other licenses are similar to here in Los Angeles they roll over with the zoning permits that are originally set up when a property is built. That might be why they're retaining a set percentage of the building in order to qualify as a renovation rather than a reconstruction and not reset the permits to zero.

He'll have to get part of his gaming license stuff re-done but the big part (i.e. investigating your background) is already in the bag.

@ratevegas are you sure sam got investigated? he didn't have a license before... instantly handed casino ops to navegante when escrow closed.

I hope this happens but will not be shocked if it doesn't. The middle market folks aren't going to wander down to this part of the Strip because they think it ends with Encore.

Great piece, Eric. The fact that SLS has come so far confirms this is not a pipe dream. That, plus all the positive things I hear, long distance, about Hyde Bellagio, show that Nazarian has matured.

Plans for the North Strip were devastated by the recession, but SLS may be a catalyst. My question is, what ownership and influence do Derek and Gary Stevens have in Riviera, and are there plans to reinvent that property à la Sahara? Two, solid, mid-market properties, side by side, would save the North Strip.

Nazarian would've been better off buying the Cosmo from DBank and sharing MGM's player database to fill the casino with players. Cosmo is already the hippest place in Vegas and I don't see the Naz pulling many 20-somethings to that desolate end of the Strip. Hyde is a success due to it's location, the Bellagio!

@Blackjackkidd-I don't think Nazarian has anywhere near the financial ability to buy the Cosmopolitan from Deutsche Bank. It is a multi-billion dollar albatross that will never pay off it's true cost of construction. The endgame is the same now as it was from the start, IMO: DB surrenders the property to MGM for an equity position in the entire company. It can only be seen as any kind of success as a part of MGM Resorts and MGM is still a few years away from wanting to take it on. At a punitive discount, I might add.

@detroit I think you're spot on about maturity within SBE. And I'm hoping Sam uses that to turn the SLS into something more than a moneygrab for the young party set. That means putting up a building that's a lot more than a Palazzo style decorated slot barn. He's torn it down, lets hope it builds well.

The Riv is a more interesting aspect. I think they really do enjoy playing the low-mid end market, but they have so much potential to transform the property with the interesting mix of buildings that already exist there. However they'd definitely go for something that bridges the gap, that is if the SLS is a success, and Resorts World comes into play as a luxury gateway to the North Strip.

@Blackjackkid As Jeff said, the Cosmo is way off the price game for anyone actively looking outside of the deepest of pockets. In other words, as much as Sam would love it, it would never be in his range. DB has an end game with the property that none of us know about, but I know it doesn't involve anything like a bargain basement sale. If anything, Jeff's ideas are as valid as DB losing to to foreclosure.


A few questions from a curious person. First, When in your professionsl opinion should we expect an opening (An educated guess)? Will there be Gambling (many have assumed that there would be Gambling)? Could they be cutting size to make it more desireable (supply and demand)?

@n580564x As they're just in demo, that's hard to tell. There are a lot of balls in the air with a project this large, and anything can cause a delay, or expedite the project. I would guess, based on what I've seen, late 2014 in reality, which falls in line nicely with the typical time of year for a casino soft opening. Gambling? Yeah. Has to be. Vdara doesn't have it, but it can live because its footsteps from two major casinos. On the north strip a lack of gaming isn't even viable for the SLS, not to mention I'm sure it was part of the package deal for financing. I don't think size cutting is going to happen either because the Sahara parcel is already quite moderate in size, and SLS room revenue will drive until the new gaming income comes in. Perhaps it'll be one tower at a time, but I think all of the podium area will definitely be used.

Gawd, this is fascinating....

Times like this, I really miss Two Way Hard Three!! ;)

Eventually Nazarian will have to apply for a gaming license, as contracting gaming operations to a third party is normally a temporary measure while the principals in the property get licensed. In some cases, it's done as the new owners are not intending on owning the property long-term and going through the licensing process would be a waste of time and money. For example, the current owners of Hooters are looking to sell the property and have contracted Navegante to run the casino in the interim. The same is true with the LVH, as the current ownership do not plan to hold onto the property long-term. There are Deutsche Bank executives that hold gaming licenses because they are required to under Nevada law since they are on the board of the operating company the bank created to run the property.

There have been rumors that the reason why Nazarian has yet to apply for a gaming license after all these years is that there are some things in his background that may preclude him from being approved for a license. Getting a non-restricted license as an owner is not a quick and easy process and can cost a lot of money ($25,000 on the low end to well over a $1 million depending on the amount of time it takes for the GCB investigators to go over everything.). They scrutinize pretty much everything about an applicant (You can thank folks like Frank Rosenthal, Allen R. Glick and Ted Binion for that.), and pretty much no stone is left unturned.

My prediction is that Nazarian will never get a gaming license nor will Trump, not because they can't afford it but because of what's in their closets.

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