Saturday, February 16, 2013

An Oasis at the Sahara

One year after it closed, can Sahara site become a symbol of Las Vegas’ rebound?

It's only fitting that a developer is planning a new oasis for Las Vegas to replace a project called the Sahara.

The developer SBE announced today the groundbreaking for SLS Las Vegas, a new $415 million hotel and casino remodeling project being undertaken by Philippe Starck and Gensler. The development is an adaptive reuse of the Sahara, a casino and hotel whose failure in 2011 is only part of the reason that the SLS Las Vegas is a gamble. 

The old Sahara
 SLS Las Vegas will feature more than 1,600 rooms and suites, with interiors by Starck. Gensler is overseeing the remodeling of some 2.2 million square feet of space, including a 66,000-square-foot casino that will occupy a single level.

For a full-scale remodeling of the hotel that served as the set for the 1960 film Ocean's Eleven, the developers of SLS Las Vegas are working to play down expectations. "Our plan will be to deliver a product that is affordable and approachable," SBE founder and CEO Sam Nazarian told Bloomberg Businessweek last year. "We are going back to the roots of Las Vegas."

Roots doesn't necessarily mean humble: The program for SLS Las Vegas includes a new restaurant by José Andrés and a 10,000-square-foot Fred Segal retail store. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is stumping for the project. The global Starck brand, which is doing interiors for the Gensler-designed rehab, was responsible for the 1994 renovation of the Delano Hotel—one of Miami's most celebrated hotels.

 Perhaps SBE is getting back to roots in Vegas by taking on a project with a fair amount of risk involved. When the developers sought financing, Moody's gave the project a "risky" debt rating. The payoff, however, could be profound for the Entertainment Capital of the World. Las Vegas Sun columnist J. Patrick Coolican outlined the ways that SLS Las Vegas could up the ante for the entire north end of the Strip: "If the new property attracts the buzz and the crowds of, say, the Cosmopolitan, we might see Carl Icahn do something with the Fontainebleau site. And maybe MGM Resorts will do something with the land it owns. Or sell it to someone who will."

The developers are also betting that the economy will continue to rebound and that, by the hotel's opening in 2014, Las Vegas will be enjoying an unquestionable economic recovery. As Coolican notes, recovery won't mean a return to megaresorts. Despite the risks today, adaptive reuse may prove to be the surest bet as the recovery continues.




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