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Arnold M. Knightly

A little more space to rock 'n' roll

3 January 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The last of the Hard Rock Hotel's holiday garland was being removed Wednesday outside the Pink Taco restaurant as the sounds of a jackhammer filled the hallway.

The $750 million expansion and renovation project that will double the property's size and add 950 hotel rooms by mid-2009 is under way on the northwest corner of Harmon Avenue and Paradise Road.

With a construction wall up on the building's east side, the hotel-casino will remain open during construction with management trying to minimize disruption for the customers.

"Hopefully, we'll do the best of our ability not to displace too much of the Hard Rock vibe and the customer," said Philip Shalala, the property's vice president of marketing. "Obviously our number one concern is customers, making sure we don't disrupt their stay."

Plans, first announced in March, call for two new hotel towers, new restaurants, a spa and health club, new retail space, 60,000-square-feet of convention and meeting space as well as a new, larger The Joint concert venue by mid-2009.

Although changes outside are just beginning the interior makeover is well under way.

Renovations of the suites on the 10th and 11th floors of the hotel tower are complete; suites on the lower floors are now getting made over.

The remaining rooms in the 650-room tower are scheduled to begin renovations in March.

Work has also begun on a new poker room, a high-end rock 'n' roll lounge and a few new restaurants.

Ago, a Los Angeles-based Italian restaurant with partner and actor Robert De Niro that is replacing Simon's kitchen bar, is already open with a grand opening planned for February.

The Cuba Libre Cigar Shop, site of the new poker room scheduled to open by May, has been closed with a large construction wall featuring hand-painted portraits of musicians, including Bob Marley, John Lennon and Johnny Cash, taking its place.

"We've really tried to limit the amount of displacement we've had," said Shalala, adding that the artwork provides better flow than a plain a construction wall. "We're meticulously thinking out the process of how we're going to manage this construction."

Wasted Space, a live-band lounge designed by professional motocross star Cary Hart, a long-time Las Vegan, is also expected to open by May, replacing the closed Viva Las Vegas Lounge.

An expansion of the restaurant Nobu is under way and a redesign of AJ's Steakhouse is to begin in March.

The current The Joint concert hall will remain open until late 2008 with the new facility opening early 2009, Shalala said.

The old facility will be opened up for 35,000 square feet of additional casino space.

March will also mark the beginning of construction on a new parking garage and two new hotel towers, a 15-story, 550-room hotel tower with a separate 400-suite VIP tower, on eight acres on the behind the hotel.

The Paradise Bay Club weekly apartment complex, on 23 acres behind the Hard Rock Hotel, was closed in July and razed to make room for the new garage and towers.

A joint venture between the Hard Rock Hotel and another party is still being negotiated for the remaining 14 acres.

The Hard Rock Hotel is owned through a joint-venture between New York-based Morgans Hotel and private equity investor DLJ Merchant Banking Partners.

Morgans took over hotel operations in February after buying the property from founder Peter Morton for $770 million.