Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2005 | 9:03 a.m.
When a partnership led by Planet Hollywood co-founder Robert Earl bought the Aladdin out of bankruptcy in 2003, executives were optimistic that they'd be licensed in 2004 and that the "Planetization" of the property would be completed by 2005.
As 2005 winds to a close, there are signs that what is now a $140 million face-lift promised by Earl and his partners 2 1/2 years ago is under way.
But the best, as they say, is yet to come.
"The process of de-theming the Aladdin has taken a little longer than we expected," Mike Mecca, president of the property, said. "But there are all sorts of things happening in January."
Mecca offered a preview of coming attractions for the 2,587-room Strip resort now set for completion by the end of 2006:
Mecca said one of the main reasons the redesign has taken so long is that the partners decided to complete the entire project without closing and efforts to develop phasing and construction scheduling while keeping the property open was more complex than anticipated.
"But I think we have the team in place that is up to the task," Mecca said of Dougall Design, Klai Juba Architects and M.J. Dean Construction Inc.
Executives said they don't want to close the resort or scale back operations because the property is on a roll.
Mecca said the hotel, under the management of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide since Earl's group took over the property, has maintained an occupancy rate in the high 90 percent range. He said an 18 percent increase in the property's average daily room rate was the highest year-over-year of any Strip resort last year.
Mecca talks like a Hollywood promoter when listing the property's entertainment lineup.
"We've had Velvet Revolver and Nelly, and we're going to have Kelly Clarkson, The Pointer Sisters, Kenny Loggins and Kanye West and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra," Mecca said. "Planet Hollywood is all about great entertainment on a frequent basis."
The Sunset Strip Band, a new entertainment troupe of singers and dancers, has been formed and will perform at club and lounge venues throughout the property.
The resort also will play host to the Miss America Pageant next month.
While most of Planet Hollywood's new look will be unveiled next month and completed over the next year, some work already has begun. Construction walls that hide the work crew and construction equipment have been erected, and the muffled sound of machinery can be heard amid the ringing of the slot machines.
One of the biggest projects under way is the installation of a new escalator that will lift guests coming in off the Strip to the restaurants, nightclubs and retail attractions on the property's second level.
A new Planet Hollywood logo that identifies the brand's hotel is already in felt on table games, and Planet Hollywood-themed slot machines have appeared on the casino floor.
The hotel and casino aren't the only entities going through the de-theming process. Boulevard Invest's Desert Passage mall, a collection of 140 stores and 13 restaurants, also looks to shed its Arabian theme.
David Edelstein, co-owner of the Desert Passage, said the Strip entrances to the retail areas are being redesigned and several of the zones that have Arabian or Moroccan themes will be changed to something more closely related to the Planet Hollywood standard.
The investment partnership that owns the mall is relaxing storefront standards to allow the retailers more say in how their shops are presented. Edelstein said his company has signed 43 new leases in the last six months and shop owners are revamping their looks.
"The Gap was one of the stores that renewed its lease instead of leaving," Edelstein said, noting that tenants felt they were "hamstrung and handcuffed" by previous rules and that the new look should be more inviting to shoppers.
The owners haven't decided on changing the name of the mall, but there are plans to include a tag identifying them as "the shops at Planet Hollywood."
"Part of the problem is that tourists have no idea that there's a mall there," Edelstein said. "They see a sign for Desert Passage and they have no idea what it is."
Meanwhile, critics of the property say the transition to the Planet Hollywood brand should help, and that the remodeling could help solve what has been the Aladdin's fatal flaw -- the access to it.
"Just changing the name should help," UNLV public administration professor Bill Thompson said. "I think 'Aladdin' has always had the connotation of being a loser."
Thompson said that while Planet Hollywood was a trendy brand 10 to 15 years ago, it could still have legs in the 21st century if the company can deliver the entertainment promises it has made.
"They've said they're going to try to attract celebrities," he said. "That's something that has always drawn attention to the Palms and the Hard Rock, the fact that you may get a glance at a celebrity.
"If they can pull that off, they can put the loser reputation behind them."
But access is still likely to be an issue, especially since the trek from the parking garage to the casino is about a quarter-mile walk.
"Some of the city's best customers are people who aren't going to want to walk that far," Thompson said.
Mecca said engineers have looked at the problem and can't come up with a solution, but that better signs and developing more interesting attractions will make it worth the walk.
Richard N. Velotta can be reached at 259-4061 or at velotta@ lasvegassun.com.