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Postscript: Downtown Grand

By RateVegas on Wednesday, 21st May 2014 9:54am
  » filed under Las Vegas  comments: 22


I stayed at Downtown Grand recently with my wife. We were attending a family event nearby and I wanted to give it a try. This isn't a review of DTG but I have some thoughts and I think it relates to SLS because they'll have to avoid the same sorts of problems.

In short, I can't imagine staying at Downtown Grand again unless things change.

I was expecting my wife to like it. When it comes to Fremont-area casinos, the things she misses most from The Strip are 24-hour room service and a spa. Downtown Grand has neither but they do have a hokey take-out program from some of their restaurants which is more than you can say about most other non-Nugget Downtown locations. Turns out, she kinda hated it, cememted by a 2am Friday night text message saying 'This place sucks'.

So, why didn't she like it? It was a people problem. First, there weren't enough customers in the casino itself to reach any sort of critical mass - it feels really dead inside. Second, clearly related to the first point, there's not enough staff to serve the place. Cocktail service was terribly slow, I think I saw a single waitress for the whole casino floor. The center bar was completely untended at both times we tried to get a drink and Art Bar's guy was sweeping up in a corner of the lobby when I walked up. Overall, it wasn't that the employees were surly or badly behaved, there just weren't enough of them for the (meager) crowd.

Beyond service issues, I noted a myriad malfunctions and seemingly un-forced errors. The shower has this bizarre configuration with a half-glass panel covering part of it but no sliding door. That means there's a cold draft and water spills out on to the floor. Way to save $50 guys - next time, get the whole door.

Elevator stops aren't labeled (there are two distinct ground destinations), resulting in me overhearing the same confused conversation on every single trip down and many guests wandering in the wrong direction. A missed opportunity to feed people through the casino.

The new Mob Bar, located in an isolated corner of the property, has zero signage when it's actually open - the decal is on the back side of the door, hidden when operating. The bartender there told us no one ever comes in and practically begged us to come back later that night. We didn't.

Downtown Grand makes it easy for you to leave - you can text your valet ticket number and your car is waiting for you when you get there. Worked perfectly for us over the course of three pickups. Very nice.

This was mentioned at VT10 but it is absolutely true - from Fremont Street, it's entirely unclear that the place wants your business. The benefit of two giant hotel-tower billboards is erased by inept marketing materials. How about a giant arrow that says Jackpots Available Here. I've heard talk of people walking to the Mob Museum and not even realizing there's a casino inside. Downtown Grand is the nicest place nobody visits.

Perhaps both most annoying - and pathetic - is what they're doing on 3rd Street, the private lane that bisects the two hotel towers. Clearly, they are hoping they can turn it into some sort of street-fair type atmosphere. In reality, it's a disaster. On the Saturday we were there, they hosted a Hawaiian cultural celebration that brought in about 75 people who sat outside the whole time and consumed no casino amenities... Oh, but it was plenty loud in our room (afternoon nap was a no-go thanks to the super loud music). This is on top of the sad little booths for face painting and the like they setup that literally had more employees than patrons, all day long.

The guest room walls at Downtown Grand are extremely thin - beyond the music, we heard every argument our neighbors had. It really sucked. I understand that old buildings are hard to deal with but please don't make it worse with endless bass from downstairs, especially when it's not benefiting your guests.

What playbook is Downtown Grand using? It doesn't seem to be the Fremont Street edition, because that would mean joining the Fremont Street Experience. Yes, membership fees are expensive but that's the cost of doing business. You give and you get - access to successful co-marketing agreements and some say in having the crucial 3rd street plaza transformed from a business killing dead zone into something fun.

Is it the Wynn playbook? Given CEO Seth Schorr's pedigree, you could imagine that, though I think even limited exposure has shown that's folly: you can't do Strip-stuff Downtown, it doesn't work - people just go to The Strip.

Lastly, I wondered if they were maybe copying some of Station's plays - trying to attract locals to big jackpots and a free or cheap meal. One look at the billboards that dominate I-15 made that obvious - if they are going that way, they're doing a very bad job. The Downtown Grand billboards I saw were designed in such a way it was very unclear who the billboard was even advertising for. Compare this to any Station billboard where the casino name is front and center in clear type.

For what it's worth, I didn't see CEO Schorr on property all weekend. He did post some nice photos to Twitter from New York City though. I'd imagine that a new casino, successful or not, requires daily visits during the first months as the property is tuned. Looking at LinkedIn, it appears Vegas Gang's 2013 VIMFP guest Zach Conine and supposed right-hand is no longer with Fifth Street Gaming. What happened? Will Schorr be next off a sinking ship?

CIM Group spent a lot of money building a nice spot that predictably has a bunch of post-opening flaws. They're fixable but it'll take at least a few million extra bucks to straighten them out. Right now, it appears to be a classic example of a place opening the doors but not actually having enough cash to operate the right way. It's not yet fatal but they're on the precipice. Pizza Rock is still pretty epic.

Hopefully SLS won't end up in the same spot. If they can operate lean for a couple of years and still deliver what customers want, they might confound expectations. I'd love to go back to 2011 and tell myself I was way wrong. Can't wait to see it live in September.


Comments & Discussion:

Yeouch. Makes me feel more than a little bit apprehensive about the non-refundable room rate I just booked there for a couple of nights this summer.

I wish you luck. Talked to my wife again last night about it and she confirmed she never wants to go back. She compared our DTG trip to staying at The D, which she really enjoyed because it was fun. She did not think DTG was fun. At all.

Curious which tower you stayed in...the one over the casino or the one across 3rd. Don't get me wrong, there are myriad problems at DTG, but my rooms were never one aside from the shower debacle. My rooms have always been quiet, but I've always had ones in the tower once removed.

It was the one across 3rd.

I went back last week to see the "remodeled" High Roller slot pit. I was VERY disappointed. Who puts .01 slot machines in a "High Roller slot pit"? There are more $5 slot machines outside on the floor than in the pit. I have really been trying to give the Downtown Grand a fair chance at my business, but they are failing at every opportunity. I will be going back down in June (my 7th trip this year) and hope to see some tangible improvements.

It's a shame, as it sounds like the property has a lot of potential. Just my opinion, but I'd disagree with the sentiment that being a part of the FSE would benefit them. I just don't see it, while it would give them some advertising, I just don't see where the FSE audience in any stream would be swayed by DTG listed among a bunch of other properties.

To me they need a much bigger grass roots campaign to get some bodies in the door, I'm guessing you'll see sometime in the near future if it isn't there already the lose $200 on us style promotion, and then maybe with an updated players club catalog an aggressive push on rates and such to at least get occupancy to a respectable number.

I agree with jinx73 about "no added value" by being a member of FSE. When I'm on Fremont Street, if I didn't specifically think about it, Downtown Grand wouldn't be on my radar. It doesn't "stick out". Why don't they put a big sign up on the 3rd St. so at least at night somebody would see that a casino is there.

FSE controls the walkway on 3rd Street to Downtown Grand from Fremont. Not being a part of FSE means they have no access to advertise there. Big problem. Being a FSE member is about a lot more than the light show - it's access to all of the co-marketing stuff.

In fairness to Zachary and Fifth Street Gaming, his profile still lists him as being employed by Fine Venture Partners and LEV Restaurants. Fine owns both Fifth Street Gaming and LEV.

When myself, Donnymac and his wife went for dinner over at Triple George after #VT10, it was busier than Downtown Grand was and the same was true with Hogs & Heifers. There was a band playing at Picnic, presumably to a crowd made up of their friends based upon reports of how dead Picnic was during that weekend.

For the most part, unless you knew it was back there (same is true with Triple George, Pizza Rock and Hogs & Heifers, you wouldn't venture back there. That walk from Fremont Street even back during the years the Downtown Grand was gestating was always a little sketchy feeling because that alleyway is not inviting. At least in the past there were the neon signs to somewhat attract attention down that way. Most of that area of 3rd Street between Fremont Street and Ogden is considered "public right of way" and that may limit what Downtown Grand might be able to do in that area. The building in which they have put a non-lighted sign on is owned by the City Of Las Vegas but leased to CIM (who also owns a neighboring building. A lot of the land ownership Downtown is pretty interesting and a lot can be found out here:


My visit was a five minute walk-through on my way to the Mob Museum, but I don't plan on returning. I can't make the connection between Downtown Grand and SLS Las Vegas. SLS has a tried and true formula in other cities which is built on fun, partying and dining. I didn't evidence of any of these things at Downtown Grand.

"I didn't SEE evidence of any of these things at Downtown Grand."

@detroit1051 Downtown Grand shows us that it's *very hard* to get people to walk even just a little bit out of their way. For many Strip visitors, SLS is way out of the way. Thus, location is a real problem for SLS that needs to be overcome. It is possible they may be able to overcome that with F&B + good service... but, if they open the place and don't have enough cash to run it right (and like DTG, don't have enough people working there), they'll be in trouble.

"Build it and they will come" is not a real thing.

@Marty711 I'm not trying to imply Zach got fired or anything. You're right, he's clearly still in the Fine embrace. Still, he doesn't appear to be working on the hotel full-time anymore (at least as far as this would indicate), which given it needs a shit-ton of help right now, seems curious. Zach struck me as someone that was good at taking an opportunity in front of him. He didn't strike me as someone that would go down with a sinking ship.

He's definitely gone from Fifth Street Gaming's management page.

Sept 2013 via WaybackMachine:

With Culinary announcing their workers at The D, Golden Gate, Plaza, Las Vegas Club, Binion's, Four Queens, Main Street Station, Fremont and El Cortez will go on strike effective 5 AM on June first, I'm sure that the Downtown Grand is hoping that folks will end up moving over there as a result of the strike (The only Downtown hotels unaffected by the strike are the Golden Nugget [which already reached a deal with Culinary], the California [which is a non-union property unlike their sister properties Downtown] and Downtown Grand {Not sure if they are a union or non-union property.].).

This is Zach Conine. I am no longer affiliated (career wise) with Downtown Grand Las Vegas, Fifth Street Gaming, the LEV Restaurant Group or Fine Venture Partners. I hold everyone there in the highest regards and consider them both compatriots and friends.

Mike Russell (the property's CFO) and I have founded Joseph Beare & Company in order to make the best use of our skills and to help other businesses in Downtown, the greater Las Vegas area, and worldwide. We're working with a few different hospitality and non hospitality businesses Downtown and hope to have another chance to be involved with something like Downtown Grand.

Big fan of the site, but you knew that.

I'm in agreement with Hunter, DTG's issue around getting people in the door is one to surely hinder SLS, and let's not forget SLS has a much higher occupancy to maintain. F&B and nightclub will help, but even if the nightclub is at capacity, how many is that if they all stayed at the property and we know they won't be.

I understand that the 3rd st. walkway is controlled by FSE and while some ads there might help, I can't see FSE letting DTG put up something significant enough that it would matter for DTG. Unfortunately for DTG too, there isn't a chance to put in an attraction to view (ala the volcano, pirate show, etc) but taking a play out of the old playbook is likely what they need.

Most of Third Street between Fremont Street and Odgen is public right of way. FSE controls a small section of it, about 100 feet of it from the canopy. The remaining area, approximately 275 feet in length is public right of way. In the past, there were neon signs from the Neon Museum placed within that right of way.

"Someone that knows" told me that the space is effectively controlled by FSE... I don't know how that translates exactly into technical terms...

I agree that not being on Fremont is a disadvantage. Just like not being center strip is a disadvantage. Having said that, where do these people live that say that walk is "sketchy"? From Fremont to Ogden is literally feet from the canopy and lined with businesses on both sides,a and well lit. Cross Ogden and your there. Pizza Rock, Commisary, ect, ect. It's all right there. It's not as if you're walking down some dimly lit street for block and blocks.

Well, different people have different ideas of sketchy. I never felt afraid at all but at night there are typically many homeless people in there asking for money and I can at least see how some folks might not feel at ease, even if there is no actual threat.

As a postscript to this postscript, I got three different phone calls from Downtown Grand folks because of this post, asking about how they could improve. So - I give them credit for listening and following up and wanting to be better. We'll see how that goes.

@jeffinokc - You've mentioned a few times how much you loved the place. If I recall, you went right after opening (when perhaps staffing levels were higher)? Anyway, if you're going back, I'd love to get an update from you, especially if anything you experience is in contrast to the above (low staffing levels, too loud music on 3rd, etc...)

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