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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz
 

VIP reception, fireworks herald debut of $415 million SLS Las Vegas

25 August 2014

LAS VEGAS -- Rob Oseland spent close to two decades in gaming and took a much-needed time out in early 2011.

It wasn’t a long break.

By the end of the year, Oseland joined the team at SBE Entertainment and began planning for what has become the $415 million SLS Las Vegas Hotel Casino.

The 1,620-room Strip resort, a renovation of the aging Sahara, opened just after midnight following a lavish VIP reception for 3,600 guests and a fireworks display.

Oseland spent Friday visiting with dignitaries and planning the final stages of the opening.

Earlier this week, the 3,400 employees of the SLS were put through a series of “play days,” in which the hotel, casino, restaurants and amenities went through a testing period for the workers’ family and friends. The gambling in the 56,000-square-foot casino was all with play money.

Much of Friday was spent introducing SLS Las Vegas to invited guests of the property’s ownership, Los Angeles-based SBE, a restaurant, nightlife and hospitality company, and San Francisco-based private equity firm Stockbridge Real Estate.

SBE CEO Sam Nazarian, who engineered the purchase of the Sahara in 2006, joined elected officials in celebrating the SLS opening and hosted a roundtable with several of the property’s top designers.

Some of the ideas and concepts seemed to be unusual, Nazarian said.

“If there wasn’t a trust, it wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

‘CLASSICALLY DIFFERENT’

Acclaimed French designer Philippe Starck, who oversaw the redesign of the property, said the SLS will be a success, “because it is classically different” from other Las Vegas resorts.

Entertainer Lenny Kravitz, who designed four suites in the SLS Las Vegas, said he drew from different eras of pop culture to create the spaces. Kravitz designed two suites in the SLS Hotel in Miami Beach.

“They are all very fun and loose, but not serious,” said Kravitz, who appeared in the movies “The Butler,” and “The Hunger Games.” “You’re meant to have a great time in there.”

Chef José Andrés said his Bazaar Meat, the property’s high-end steak house, was created to be different from his other brands.

“We had to do something new to create a new tradition,” he said.

Nazarian kept up one tradition for the SLS brand. He and his 83-year-old father, Younes Nazarian, rang a bell to signal the property’s opening. Nazarian’s father rang the same when the SLS hotels opened in Beverley Hills and Miami.

“Thank you for believing in us,” Nazarian told the audience inside one of the ballrooms for the bell-ringing ceremony. “Our team put its heart and soul into this property. They did something no one else thought we could do.”

Oseland, who left a position with Wynn Las Vegas before joining SLS, said recently he wouldn’t be comfortable without opening-day jitters.

He thought the run-up to the opening created a buzz.

“There are four principal entrances to the property between Las Vegas Boulevard and Paradise Road,” Oseland, the president of SLS Las Vegas, said in describing guest access. “We wanted to create a place with energy and excitement.”

RECONFIGURING OLD PROPERTY

The old Sahara’s casino has been reconfigured to give SLS a 56,000-square-foot gaming space with nearly 800 slot machines, 74 table games and a high-limit gaming area. A sports book will be operated by William Hill.

The nine restaurants and three nightlife venues include many of SBE’s signature brands, including Umami Burger, the Mediterranean-themed Cleo, Japanese-themed Katsuya, 800 Degrees pizza and The Sayers Club entertainment lounge.

The three former Sahara hotel towers, all built in different decades, have been reconfigured under new names — Lux, World and Story — and are aimed at different markets: the luxury customer, the tour and travel market and the younger crowd looking for a “Vegas weekend.”

Widely known Los Angeles retailer Fred Segal has seven locations inside the property.

The idea of SLS was far from his mind when Oseland left Wynn. He was attending one of his son’s football games, when a friend “whispered in his ear” that Nazarian wanted to talk with him about a “reboot” of the well-known Strip resort.

“My first reaction was, ‘Jeez, the Sahara?’ ” Oseland recalled Thursday at the Nevada Gaming Commission hearing to license the casino.

His initial feeling faded quickly after visiting that summer with Nazarian.

After a whirlwind trip to Southern California to tour some of the SBE properties and several meetings with Nazarian, Oseland was hooked.

“I saw an exciting, growth-oriented culture,” Oseland said. “By the end of the year, I said, ‘Sign me up.’ ”

Stockbridge Executive Managing Director Terry Fancher, whose private equity firm funded the Sahara purchase for SBE, said he was fond of Nazarian’s plans for the worn-down resort.

“We thought Mr. Nazarian had a very exciting idea,” Fancher said. “ ‘Let’s take an iconic older property and reinvest in it and bring it back to life.’ We like the plan.”

The Sahara closed in 2011, and the 18-month construction project began in February 2013.

The renovation was made possible by a combination of $300 million raised by investment firm J.P. Morgan and $115 million raised through EB-5 financing, which gives foreign nationals a method of obtaining a green card in exchange for an investment in the U.S.

Stockbridge owns 90 percent of the SLS Las Vegas, while SBE Entertainment owns the remaining 10 percent but does not have any voting rights.

“We think we’re going to provide people with a great experience,” Oseland said.