Published Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 | 4:32 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014 | 10:27 p.m.
The Kats Report Bureau at this writing is the Congo Room at the Sahara.
Wait. Just had a 2001 flashback there.
I am actually entrenched in the Congo Ballroom at SLS Las Vegas, which at the moment stands for Sahara Lives Subliminally. At least in my head it does.
There is an eerie familiarity about this building, for all of the visits to the Casbar Lounge, where I used to hang with The Checkmates just before the death of Marvin “Sweet Louie” Smith. My favorite show in this particular room was “The Rat Pack Is Back” back in 2001 (and here is the link to a story we published about the show back when), which fit the vibe of the Sahara just as well as it did the old Desert Inn.
It’s difficult not to feel melancholy as SLS Las Vegas resurrects this famous parcel at the corner of Sahara and the Strip. It’s been the zombie apocalypse on this corner long enough, three years and change since the closing of the Sahara. Earlier today in a news conference at the Congo Ballroom, a collection of SLS execs and elected officials trumpeted the message that the north end of the Strip is finally showing a pulse.
SBE head Sam Nazarian repeated a fine line that he used during our hourlong interview for the cover story of the current issue of Las Vegas Weekly, during which he referred to himself as “The Self-Imposed Ambassador of the North End.”
SLS Las Vegas is different from the Sahara, of course, simply by its chic, modern and theme-less design. Unless you refer to L.A. swank as a theme. As its partnerships with such L.A.-centric entities as Fred Segal attire and the Griddle restaurant reinforces, Nazarian’s company is selling a best-of-L.A. sample box.
But the real audience to watch for at SLS Las Vegas is the Las Vegas community.
Away from the formal news conference, Fred Segal President Paul Blum said his company has trained its employees at the company’s seven boutique shops at SLS Las Vegas (one for each day of the week, I guess) to expect locals to shop in those stores. There should not be a surprise from someone behind a counter at Fred Segal that the person shopping there is carrying a Nevada ID.
“We want our people to be familiar with the people who are coming in the door,” Blum says. “Not to expect that everybody is a tourist.”
How SLS is to appeal to a high volume of Las Vegans is a sizable challenge as the hotel opens to the public tonight at midnight. Nazarian and SLS President Rob Oseland talk of the importance of the locals market, and that is fact: The last major hotel targeting a Las Vegas demographic was Red Rock Resort in 2006.
The goal at SLS is to attract 35 to 40 percent of its business from residents, a grandiose objective for any hotel on the Strip, which is not a haven for locals casinos. Years ago, the pre-Onyx-ownership Tropicana did attempt to lure a locals market in the same way SLS is grabbing at Las Vegas today but found that most residents are simply allergic to frequenting the Strip.
Those who are familiar with the divide between tourist-targeted resorts and locals casinos will tell you that locals have become used to two qualities: Value and convenience. There are a lot of amenities tied into those requirements; access is a huge concern when courting locals. But if a Las Vegas resident can get in and out of a hotel-casino, have a good time and not feel fleeced, you’ve won his heart.
SLS Las Vegas is not a neighborhood casino by strict definition, although there are residences nearby, including Turnberry Place, Allure and the Las Vegas Country Club estates. But it is not in the backyard of several thousand residents, the folks who are the engine of such locals resorts as Red Rock and the Cannery in North Las Vegas.
County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who has lived in Las Vegas since her days at UNLV and whose district covers the Strip, says SLS is doing all it can to lure Las Vegas residents to the hotel.
“(Nazarian) hung in there, that’s the big thing, and people who live here appreciate and respect that,” Giunchigliani said today. “And look what it’s triggered: The Genting Group (developing Resorts World Las Vegas across the Strip from SLS and Wynn Las Vegas and Encore) and Rock in Rio (the live-event venue set to open next year, also across Las Vegas Boulevard from SLS). The synergy of the area is what’s new now, and that is because of this project.”
Giunchigliani’s idea of needing pedestrian bridges to handle such a crush of people walking along the Strip heading across Sahara Avenue might seem unlikely at this moment. This morning, I walked from the Stratosphere to SLS, and it is not exactly a short trek — sort of like when you feel you can just pop across Flamingo Road from Bellagio to Caesars Palace.
But there is no question that there is a considerable, major development in the offing in this area — and more people will be walking around the neighborhood three years from now than today.
“This is an important corridor leading from the Strip to downtown Las Vegas,” Giunchigliani said. “SLS can be the hotel to make that connection.”
Sen. Harry Reid stepped away from the script to talk of the new hotel, chiding Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak. As is his wont, Sisolak was toting a “key to the Las Vegas Strip,” which is different from the traditional key to the city offered by the mayors Goodman over the years.
This is to remind that the Strip is not in the Las Vegas city limits but actually located in unincorporated Clark County. That border is actually Sahara Avenue, which means the Stratosphere is in Las Vegas city limits, but SLS Las Vegas is not.
Big deal, says Reid.
“I understand because Sisolak never lets me forget it, that this is not Las Vegas,” Reid said from the stage in the old Congo Room. “Sure. OK.”
Point is, SLS Las Vegas is Las Vegas and is carrying a lot of hope for the north tip of our most famous street. As Reid himself said, “This area needed a shot in the arm, and this is the shot in the arm.”