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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

All Shook Up

17 October 2005

Elvis has left the building, at least for a short time.

When the Las Vegas Hilton began the initial phase of a planned five-year redevelopment and expansion of the aging off-Strip resort, a statue of singer Elvis Presley, who used to grace the Hilton showroom, was moved from its place at the property's front entrance into storage.

Once the lobby, main entry area, porte cochere and front desk are remodeled, Elvis will be returned for guests to enjoy and photograph.

"Elvis will be back, we promise," said Las Vegas Hilton spokesman Ira Sternberg. He said the current construction is expected to be completed in December.

In the meantime, construction crews are busy changing the main entrance at the Las Vegas Hilton. The property's revolving door entry will remain but a new system is being installed.

A new casino bar and lounge toward the center of the property's main casino is being added to a location that housed casino marketing offices. A coffee, wine and pastry bar is being built near the lobby.

Recently, the Las Vegas Hilton opened an 11-table poker room in the casino area near the race and sports book. In the hotel tower, 45 third-floor Lanai suites and 13 director suites were refurbished with new flooring, window coverings, bathroom fixtures and electronic enhancements, such as plasma screen televisions.

The first phase of the construction projects will cost Las Vegas Hilton owner Colony Capital $20 million. Over the next five years, the Las Vegas Hilton will be enhanced to make better use of the resort's 59-acre site on Paradise Road. Company officials were unclear if that might include additional hotel rooms or increased casino capacity.

In 1999, a 16-story Grand Vacations timeshare property opened on the north edge of the Las Vegas Hilton site.

"This project is the beginning of a five-year master plan that will expand this property and fully utilize the entire acreage," Las Vegas Hilton General Manager Rudy Prieto said.

Colony Capital bought the Las Vegas Hilton in 2003 from Caesars Entertainment for $280 million. Hilton Hotels Corp. licensed use of the Hilton name back to Colony Capital through 2008.

Toward the end of its ownership of the Las Vegas Hilton, Caesars Entertainment did little to remodel the hotel-casino, other than normal maintenance.

A race and sports book was added in 1986, and parking garages were added 1988 and 1997. The property's last major enhancement took place in 1998 when the Star Trek Experience and Space Quest Casino were opened.

Built and opened by Kirk Kerkorian in 1969 as the International, the Las Vegas Hilton had two major expansions -- the east tower in 1975 and the north tower in 1978 which gave the Y-shaped building its full complement of 3,000 rooms.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor David Schwartz, who is coordinator of the Gaming Studies Research Center, said the Las Vegas Hilton name and history were too important for the new ownership to relinquish.

"It's a great property with a nice location (next to the Las Vegas Convention Center) with nice amenities," Schwartz said. "There seemed to be some fighting within the ownership, so that's why the property seemed to suffer."

During the past year, Las Vegas Hilton executives reviewed concepts, plans and material for construction and remodeling.

"Not much had been done over the last few years," Sternberg said. "We think this initial construction project will give the property a dramatic new look."

Eventually, all the public locations will be remodeled, including the main casino area. While the existing crystals and mirror panels will remain, the new Las Vegas Hilton will have a modern look with new carpeting, seating, wall coverings and finishes. Employees also will also have new uniforms.