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Rod Smith

Hooters Brands Casino Off Strip

18 August 2004

Just when it seemed as if every brand imaginable had made it to the Strip, along comes Hooters -- billing itself as delightfully tacky, yet unrefined -- with plans to plant its high-profile brand on one of the quietest little hotels in town.

The world's first Hooters Casino Hotel will debut in Las Vegas next year, following the recent sale and planned renovation of the 711-room Hotel San Remo on Tropicana Avenue just off the Strip, the companies said Tuesday.

"Isn't that the best. Hooters Airline seems to be doing real well flying out of Atlanta so I'd imagine a Hooters at the corner by the airport might fit right in," said Jim Medick, chief executive officer of MRC, Nevada's largest public-polling firm.

With a total project cost of $120 million, San Remo Executive Vice President Michael Hessling, a partner in the new ownership group, said the renovated property will be positioned to compete across the demographic spectrum of visitors to Las Vegas.

Hooters President Neil Kiefer acknowledged that his company's brand has often proved controversial, but he said its high visibility, combined with the location of the San Remo, should spell success.

"We think we have a winner in bringing the notoriety and wackiness of our brand together with this great location and the experienced ... folks of the San Remo," he said.

Hessling said the current ownership group, led by the Japan-based Izumi family, brings its prime location to the table.

He added that the renovation project will erase all other traces of the San Remo as it now exists.

He said four new dining and entertainment concepts are being added to the property.

A Dan Marino's Fine Food and Spirits, a fine dining concept that Hessling said will equal the haute cuisine chef restaurants on the Strip, is intended for quality- and price-conscious visitors. Marino was a star quarterback with the Miami Dolphins in the 1980s and 1990s.

An accompanying Martini Bar, another Marino concept, is intended to appeal to high-end customers and compete with the Ghost Bar in the Palms and The Bar at The Hotel at Mandalay Bay.

A Pete & Shorty's Tavern, Book and Bar, a Hooters concept that is popular in the Midwest, is intended to attract midrange visitors.

And a Hooters Restaurant and expanded pool area, triple the area of the current pool, will be designed to appeal to the standard Hooters clientele and compete with the likes of the Hard Rock Hotel.

The four new concepts, combined with a complete renovation of the hotel rooms and public areas, are designed to give the property an entirely new brand identification, Hessling said.

Medick agreed that the brand name's power should give the project a marketing kick when it opens late next year.

"It's a hot brand backed by hot names. Dan Marino and Hooters on the Strip is not a bad combination and I think I've found a new place to have my business lunches," he said.

Hessling said the Eastern and Western Hotel Corp., which owned and operated the San Remo for 15 years, started looking at opportunities last year for growing the hotel when it was approached by Hooters with a proposal for a joint venture partnership to redevelop the property.

The new ownership group includes Hessling, two members of the Izumi family, and nine partners in Hooters of America.

Hessling said the 600 current San Remo employees will be retained and 400 new positions will be created by the renovation and rebranding project.

Hooters operates 375 restaurants nationwide and Hooters Airline, primarily on the East Coast.

Hessling said it is too early to know whether the airline with add flights to Las Vegas, but he said it would be beneficial for the airline and for the new Hooters Hotel Casino.