Wednesday, July 29, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
Friends and family are testing the waters at Hard Rock’s new hotel tower this week. They’re testing the water pressure, flicking through the TV channels and making sure those new sheets have just the right number of threads for the Hard Rock’s guests this weekend.
Hard Rock will welcome its first guests at its new 490-room Paradise tower come Friday night. The tower opening will mark the first phase of completion in Hard Rock’s $750 million expansion project.
The tower will open Friday with guests in nearly all of the 479 completed rooms. Come Saturday, the new tower, along with the rest of the property, will be sold out.
“I guess it’s trial by fire. We’re all in for the weekend,” Hard Rock’s Senior Vice President and General Manager Yale Rowe said.
Aside from 11 suites that still need finishing touches before guests arrive, Hard Rock finished its Paradise Tower two months ahead of schedule and just in time for its peak season. Attractions such as Hard Rock’s Sunday adult pool party Rehab, its poolside concert series and big names at the renovated Joint help to keep a buzz at the property during the summer.
Rowe said unlike most hotel-casinos in Las Vegas, Hard Rock’s prime is during the summer months.
Upon completion late this year, the expansion project will bring Hard Rock’s room total from 650 to more than 1,500. Where some properties might be concerned about filling more rooms, Hard Rock doesn’t seem too worried. Rowe said the hotel normally operates at an occupancy rate of 90 percent or higher.
“We’ve always been short on supply to meet the demand year after year,” Rowe said. “We still get the volume here. It’s just the rate isn’t what is used to be.”
Room rates at Hard Rock on the weekends are from $199 to $399 a night during the month of August but fall to $79 during the week. That’s where Hard Rock is depending on the addition of their meeting and convention facilities to bring in business travelers.
When completed, the expansion project will add another 15-story, all-suite hotel tower, 46,000 additional square feet of gaming space and about 75,000 square feet of convention space.
Hard Rock commissioned the forces of New York City-based designer Mark Zeff for the design of the new hotel rooms in the expansion.
Zeff is responsible for the edgy, modern design in projects such as the Gothic-style Night Hotel in New York City, Sense Spa in the legendary Carlyle Hotel and the current look of Hard Rock’s anti-club, Wasted Space.
Hard Rock officials described the new rooms as “rock ’n’ roll decadence” during a tour of the Paradise Tower on Tuesday.
The tower has taken on a tattoo theme with carpets reminiscent of tribal tattoos lining the hallways and black stenciling that creeps up the guest room walls. The rooms are dark and rich, designed in a burgundy, black and charcoal gray color scheme offset by all white linens.
The crowning 3,500-square-foot penthouse, which will be completed with 10 other suites in mid-August, will feature three bedrooms, a digital pool table and a 360-degree view of the Strip.
For Hard Rock’s new pool cabana suites, the property recruited local designer Mark Tracy of Chemical Spaces.
The pool cabana suites were still a work in progress Tuesday afternoon as Tracy painted a mural of Kate Moss in one of the bedrooms.
He’s left his unique mark on each of the rooms. One features a surrealist mural of a reindeer head on a woman’s body, and another a giant skull, black crows and a fallen angel. Tracy’s unconventional style was exactly what Hard Rock was looking for.
“We gave him a lot of freedom and a lot of leeway and were really blown away by some of the over-the-top designs he brought back. We’re excited to see how the guests will respond to them,” Rowe said.
While other companies have been criticized for their financing to fund expansion projects, Hard Rock said it had the capital from the start.
“Prior to the erosion of the marketplace and the economy, unlike a lot of other projects, we didn’t have to worry about the capital being available because it was already funded. Bringing it in early certainly helps in being under budget,” Rowe said.
Not only will Hard Rock finish its project ahead of schedule, but it is adding 1,200 employees to staff the expansion. Rowe said the property has reevaluated operating expenses rather than looking to their labor model to cut costs.
“It’s taken an enormous amount of work and focus to make sure we don’t get ourselves into a bind. But it’s worth the effort. It’s been a very rewarding experience not to have to go through layoffs,” Rowe said.
Hard Rock currently employs about 2,000 people. When the property announced it would be holding a job fair to hire an additional 800, close to 4,000 responded.
Hard Rock hired 400-plus employees for the reopening of The Joint and the new steakhouse rare 120°.
The renovation of The Joint, which opened in April, upped the concert venue’s seating by 2,000 and has since brought in names like Paul McCartney, The Killers and the reunion of Blink 182. The growth at The Joint has spilled over into food and beverage outlets, nightlife and room bookings, Rowe said.
Aside from the summer concert lineup at the Joint, Hard Rock has launched a free poolside concert series called Friday Night Live. While new promotions and big entertainment names aren’t cheap, Rowe said, Hard Rock believes it is seeing a return on its investment.
“When we have the opportunity, and we have it often, we play offense. That probably sets us apart in town,” Rowe said. “There’s not a lot of people playing offense in this market right now.”