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Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Texas Attractions Might Inspire Fremont Changes

8 November 2005

The top executive of the Fremont Street Experience, the company that oversees the light show canopy and retail mall, thinks downtown Las Vegas needs to better capitalize on its "Vintage Vegas" theme.

Fremont Street Experience Chief Executive Joe Schillaci and a group of casino executives may have been inspired during this weekend's tour of themed attractions owned by Landry's Restaurants in Houston and Galveston, Texas.

Landry's, the restaurant giant that recently purchased the Golden Nugget, flew about a dozen members of the Fremont Street Experience to Texas to view the attractions as a way to introduce itself to its new neighbors.

The group saw Landry's Downtown Aquarium in Houston, a six-acre entertainment and dining complex that includes a seafood restaurant, casual cafe, lounge, a Ferris wheel, an underwater-themed carousel, a plaza with dancing fountains, an observation tower and a gas-powered train.

The trip also included a tour of the company's Kemah Boardwalk near Galveston, a 40-acre amusement park with a nautical-theme hotel, Ferris wheel, midway arcade games, restaurants and retail stores.

Schillaci said he was impressed by the company's "attention to detail" and "quality of operations."

The company's nautical theme has been effective, he said.

"I can't help but think (downtown Las Vegas needs) to have more focus on a general theme," Schillaci said.

Fremont Street Experience Chairman Don Snyder said Landry's didn't discuss any specifics about its Las Vegas plans during the trip.

"This was about getting to know the new kids on the block more than anything else," said Snyder, former president of Boyd Gaming Corp. Snyder was involved in creating the Fremont Street Experience and has been a longtime supporter of downtown redevelopment.

"We came away with a good feeling for what the company is all about and the role it plays in some redevelopment projects," he said.

Snyder called Landry's a "wonderful addition to downtown.

"They have a strong interest in doing whatever it takes to help Fremont Street move to the next level," he said. "It's nice to have a new owner that can bring that kind of energy to downtown."

Landry's Downtown Aquarium in Houston opened in February 2003 at a cost of more than $30 million. Also in 2003, Landry's opened a two-story steakhouse near Minute Maid Park, also in downtown Houston. In January 2004, the company opened a nearby hotel called Inn at the Ballpark.

Both the aquarium and boardwalk attractions are geared toward families as compared with downtown Las Vegas, which is an adult destination, Schillaci said.

Still, the company demonstrated that it can run more than restaurants, he said.

Landry's Chief Executive Tilman Fertitta has promised to remodel the Las Vegas property, downtown's largest, as well as add two restaurants and a hotel tower. Fertitta has also discussed purchasing more property downtown and expanding the Golden Nugget brand nationwide.

"I'm trying to fix downtown," Fertitta said Friday. "I want to take Fremont Street to the next level."

The Houston-based company owns nearly two dozen restaurant brands, including Joe's Crab Shack and Rainforest Cafe.