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Best of Benjamin Spillman
Benjamin Spillman

Golden Gate owners celebrate

7 April 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The Golden Gate, grande dame of Las Vegas hotels, has a new patron.

Derek Stevens, 40, whose family owns the Las Vegas 51s baseball team and a stake in the Riviera, recently made his first public appearance at the Golden Gate since buying into the 102-year-old property on Fremont Street in March.

To the tune of the Golden Gate's signature piano and clinking martini glasses, Stevens and co-owner Mark Brandenburg celebrated the transaction.

Both men promised to upgrade the tiny -- by Las Vegas standards -- Golden Gate without changing its signature touches, most significant among them, the 99-cent shrimp cocktails.

Neither expects the Golden Gate, built in 1906 and home to just 106 hotel rooms, to compete with Strip mega resorts. But they do have plans to promote the property as a boutique hotel, an image Brandenburg has been cultivating since at least 2002.

The infusion of an undisclosed amount of money from Stevens is what the Golden Gate needed to go from just getting by to making much-needed improvements to meet the demands of customers who want nicer rooms and more technology.

"Up until a few months ago we were about the only casino in Las Vegas that didn't have ticket in-ticket out," said Brandenburg, 54, referring to coinless slot machine technology that's been widespread for years.

So far proposals for the Golden Gate are modest.

The owners just installed high-definition televisions behind the bar and on the casino floor. Short-term plans call for renovating the bathrooms and improving the casino layout.

Later, they plan to renovate the hotel rooms. The upgrades will make the rooms more modern, Stevens said. But there aren't plans for anything dramatic, such as converting rooms to suites.

Brandenburg also pledged the Golden Gate would remain committed to "all of our hotel guests, not just the high rollers."

In a 2002 story about the Golden Gate, Brandenburg touted the property as a "boutique hotel," a phrase he mentioned several times at the event with Stevens and Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.

The hotel's decor has been nostalgic since about 1990 when Brandenburg and his brother were buying out other members of a family-ownership group.

Around that time they had a metallic, midcentury-style facade torn off and added 10 rooms.

Since then the look of the place hasn't changed much, but Las Vegas has.

The Fremont Street Experience canopy was completed in 1996 and in recent years the World Market Center, Lou Ruvo Brain Institute and other developments have sprung up in a formerly desolate area across Main Street from the Golden Gate.

"You are a very important nexus between the new Las Vegas and the old Las Vegas," Goodman told the hotel operators at the event Thursday.

Stevens said he took interest in the hotel during a visit in 2006. He liked the charm of the small casino, decorated in dark wood and historic photos from San Francisco.

He also liked the fact Brandenburg was on-site and attentive to the property, a contrast to Las Vegas casinos run by absentee or corporate owners.

"I walked in and asked to talk to the owner," Stevens said. "Mark was here, he agreed to take a meeting."

Stevens, whose family also owns 13 nuts and bolts factories in Michigan and Indiana, recently bought a condominium in Las Vegas and is planning to spend more time in Southern Nevada.

The casino is already touting a cross-marketing promotion with the 51s baseball team, the top minor-league affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. When the 51s score 10 or more runs, fans can receive a free shrimp cocktail, Stevens said.

He also said there are no plans to take the Dodgers off the sports book at the Golden Gate, which is run by an outside company.

There may, however, be new rooms in the future.

When asked whether there is potential to add to the hotel's room inventory Stevens said, "There is."

As for the number and location, he said, "That is to be determined."