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September 19, 2019

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Celebrating its 60th anniversary, Riviera focus of LVCVA purchase, implosion reports

Strip Properties 2013

Steve Marcus

An exterior view of the Riviera on Monday, July 15, 2013.

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A view of the casino floor at The Riviera, May 16, 2012.

In a world where resort sales are not official until the involved parties sign documents, it’s safe to say that one famous Las Vegas hotel might not survive the summer.

That hotel is the Riviera.

Word from inside and around the Riv, which opened in April 1955 and is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, is the hotel-casino is about to be snapped up by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority in a cash transaction. The purchase would be in line with the LVCVA’s $2.3 billion Las Vegas Global Business District expansion strategy, enacted two years ago.

Asked if the LVCVA was indeed buying the Riviera, authority spokeswoman Dawn Christensen said in an email, “We do not comment on rumors.”

There is not yet an agenda item for the next LVCVA Board of Directors meeting to address any such purchase, although the most recent LVCVA meeting was just Monday. The next one is March 10.

Christensen did reiterate: “The LVCVA has had a land acquisition strategy in place since 2013 for the Las Vegas Global Business District in order to pursue the opportunities that make the most strategic and fiscal sense. We continue to look at various parcels adjacent and near our campus as part of the LVCVA’s due diligence in planning for this critical project.”

Work on the Global Business District project is to begin in earnest this year, keeping in line with the time frame of a buy of the Riviera.

According to those familiar with the transaction, the purchase of the Riviera from its current owner, lending company Starwood Capital Group, would lead to the closing of the hotel as early as May. The LVCVA would then order the demolition of the building by the end of June and clear way for a new convention center project expanding the authority footprint on Paradise Road.

The typically reliable online publication Las Vegas Advisor, citing an unnamed source, specified on its website the LVCVA purchase of the Riv. Also, our own Robin Leach reported Monday that there have been preliminary talks about imploding the hotel and beginning anew with a more modern concept.

Previous to these reports, the Riviera had been working to make improvements inside the casino, specifically to its famed Versailles Theater, where two new shows — “The Rat Pack Is Back” and “MJ Live” — were to open in March. But tickets to those shows are not being offered on the Riv site, and there are no dates listed for premiere performances, which also is an indication that long-term planning is not exactly a high priority at the hotel.

The Riviera has been a focal point of sales speculation since it fell into bankruptcy in 2010, when Starwood took over operation from Riviera Holdings. Over the past few years, potential suitors have toured the resort with tacit interest in making a bid on the property. Typically, these execs have found the amount of revenue needed to refurbish the resort to move it in line with newer properties would not be worth the effort.

Before his company bought LVH, just across Paradise Road from the Riv, Westgate chief David Siegel toured the hotel and actually spent a night there. His assessment: “What a dump. I said, ‘If they gave it to me, I wouldn’t take it.’ ”

So don’t expect a new hotel-casino on that Riviera site, even if the LVCVA indeed buys the property. The authority’s charter forbids it from operating a hotel-casino. But the position of the Riviera on the Strip is ideal for additional convention space.

LVCVA chief Rossi Ralenkotter and Las Vegas Events President Pat Christensen have publicly expressed a goal of boosting the city’s 41 million annual tourists, with Ralenkotter targeting 45 million. The LVCVA reportedly turned back 30 major trade shows in 2014 because it did not have the space to accommodate the additional business.

The Riviera property, home to more than 2,100 hotel rooms, 110,000-square-foot casino, parking garage and ample surface lot, has nothing if not space. And all that history, of course, which seems about to be left to memories in the name of progress.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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