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The shuttered hotel-casino that former Mayor Oscar Goodman once called a "carcass" will be reborn as the Downtown Grand.
Workers were supposed to remove the Lady Luck signage from the hotel, which towers over Third Street between the Ogden and Stewart avenues, on Wednesday, but the task was delayed by high winds.
But Fifth Street Gaming CEO Seth Schorr, who is overseeing the remake of the property for owner CIM Group, said other changes continue apace, including recruitment of an executive team to run the Downtown Grand and construction work inside the property.
The revival of the dormant property is critical to advancing city officials' plans for a downtown rejuvenation. It's the closest resort property to the $42 million, taxpayer-funded Mob Museum, which is set to open in February and will be the anchor of Downtown 3rd, the pedestrian area between the museum and the Fremont Street Experience.
"We are proud of being downtown, we love being downtown," said Schorr of the decision to replace the Lady Luck name that glowed in the skyline from the 1970s through 2005. The Lady Luck sign in the best condition will be donated to the nearby Neon Museum.
The changes, Schorr said, will prove to visitors the Downtown Grand won't bear much resemblance to the old Lady Luck, a low-roller joint that faded with the rest of downtown through the 1990s and early 2000s and couldn't draw foot traffic away from Fremont Street.
"The standard room is the best standard room downtown," Schorr said of the plans. "Our room will not look like anyone else's room."
CIM Group of Hollywood is seeking to unify nearly all of the property in the area bounded by Fourth Street, Casino Center, Stewart and Ogden. And it's seeking to redevelop the property surrounding the Mob Museum, including the former bus terminal.
CIM's agreement with the city requires the company to complete at least $100 million in renovations at the hotel-casino by Sept. 30, 2013. The agreement requires the hotel be "three star hospitality" quality or greater "under the standards of any national or international hotel rating system."
The city is also waiving rent on a parking garage on Ogden Avenue until the completion date.
"There is no question we will complete that deal," Schorr said. "We will meet that date with breathing room."
Plans include development of the area around the Mob Museum, which the company would lease from the city at a reduced rate and be supported by Tourism Improvement District bond revenue.
Bill Arent, director of redevelopment for the city, wasn't available Wednesday for an interview, but Arent explained the reasoning behind the agreement to the City Council late last year.
"Why are we doing this?" Arent said. "It is really for jobs and taxes."
The first phase, according to city estimates, is expected to create nearly 500 construction jobs and more than 700 full-time jobs at the hotel-casino.
Arent called the full-time hotel-casino jobs "an incredible thing for downtown in this economy."
Work on the hotel-casino is progressing from the inside out, with much of the early stage construction consisting of removing and replacing electrical, plumbing and heat and air conditioning infrastructure, Schorr said.
Other imminent milestones, in addition to removing the Lady Luck signs, include the pending installation of a power plant. Another pending change that will be visible to outsiders is a remake of the pedestrian bridge over Third Street that connects the 17- and 25-story towers on opposite sides of Third Street.
The plan is to strip down the bridge to provide a better view of the Mob Museum from Fremont Street, something city officials have pushed for.
Downtown Grand owners moved the bridge remake up on their priority list to complete it in time for the museum opening, Schorr said.
"We are rushing it for the benefit of being good neighbors," Schorr said.
When the project is complete, it will have 11 restaurants, seven bars, a 50,000-square-foot casino and 22,000 square feet of retail space over 6.27 acres, according to a project profile.
The company also acquired the Binion's Gambling Hall & Hotel's parking garage at 200 N. Casino Center Boulevard for $6 million, according to property records, and has plans to use it for parking at the Downtown Grand and other businesses along Third Street, including the Hogs and Heifers bar and Triple George Grill.
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