Wednesday, Dec. 2, 1998 | 11:51 a.m.
Twelve miles west of and a timeless step above a Strip beset by jitters, an oasis of serenity is drawing closer to fruition.
And with a quiet confidence befitting their project, the executives charged with building The Resort at Summerlin are convinced they're carving something truly elegant out of the high desert landscape.
Brian McMullan and Paul Hanley know their $270 million resort featuring two Regent International Hotels will be opening next April smack in the middle of the biggest expansion of hotel-room inventory in Las Vegas history.
And they know the room increase, inadequate air service and poor highway access to Las Vegas, coupled with worldwide economic uncertainties and expansion of casino gaming elsewhere, have many Strip resort executives fearing the decades-long boom in the Southern Nevada tourism industry may finally be over.
"If you're not concerned, you're an absolute idiot," said McMullan, the South African native who is president of Seven Circle Resorts, builder and operator of The Resort at Summerlin.
"But we've thought long and hard about this," he said Tuesday before a topping-off ceremony at the resort. "It wasn't a surprise that there'd be 20,000 more rooms here by the year 2000 than when we started this project. But our property is different."
Unlike the four resorts of 3,000 rooms or more opening along the Strip within a 12-month period, The Resort at Summerlin offers just 540 rooms and suites split between two hotels -- the 253-room Regent Grand Palms and the 287-room Regent Grand Spa.
"We could have built a single 540-room hotel and enjoyed the economies of scale -- just one reservation area, for example," McMullan said. "But we gain much more in our ability to provide personal services to our guests."
Personal service is a hallmark of Regent International, the Carlson Companies Inc. unit that boasts some of the world's most famous luxury hotels. The Regent Hong Kong, for example, is consistently ranked among the top five hotels in the world by Conde Naste and other travel authorities.
A family owned, $20 billion travel and hospitality conglomerate, Carlson has more than 5,300 travel agency locations in 140 countries, as well as 1,000 hotel, resort, restaurant and cruise ship operations.
Carlson's hospitality division owned 350 Radisson mid-market hotels and 250 Country Inns & Suites economy hotels, but lacked a luxury brand. It acquired Regent International in 1997 from Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts and expects to double the number of Regent hotels by year-end 2000.
Regent currently manages or operates the Regent Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills and other five-star resorts in Bombay, Jakarta, Kazakhstan, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei, Sydney, Singapore, and Bankgkok and Chiang Mai in Thailand.
The Regent hotels range from 72 to 602 rooms, miniscule by Las Vegas Strip standards but essential to providing the ambience demanded by their targeted customers -- the top 2 percent of the tourism and business markets.
And Hanley, president of Regent International, knows those customers well.
"The demographics are easy," Hanley said. "It's the psychographics that are more difficult. And our research shows that what Brian feels intuitively is right.
"We know that our guests' fiscal and intellectual needs are taken care of. "What they're hungry for is a sense of peace and tranquility, a place that will provide luxury for all the senses."
Hanley and McMullan acknowledged that a few Strip resorts are now going after more upscale travelers, many of whom have never visited Las Vegas before. But, McMullan said, Seven Circle opted not to compete against other Strip operators when it decided to build in Las Vegas.
"We looked at the Strip, we looked at Lake Las Vegas, and we decided that Summerlin is it," he said.
"We decided we didn't want to fight against a Strip icon such as Steve Wynn, who has built the finest 3,000-room hotel in the world with Bellagio," he said.
"And Lake Las Vegas was a bit too isolated; once you're there, you're there to stay. Our customers will be just a short distance from the great production shows on the Strip, so this is much more convenient."
Located at Rampart Boulevard and Summerlin Parkway, the resort is also convenient to the surrounding area's upscale inhabitants, a group McMullan said "is extremely important to us."
"More than 235,000 people live within 5 miles," he said. "And they have an average income 22 percent higher than the rest of Las Vegas and 30 percent higher than the rest of the country."
He believes many of them will become regular customers of the resort, drawn by its gourmet restaurants, its 40,000-square-foot Aquae Sulis Spa, its spacious garden and pool areas and, yes, its casino.
While it will aim at high-income customers, the resort won't be targeting the ultra-high rollers who wager astronomical sums at some Strip casinos.
"We're not interested in playing for $250,000 per hand, but we will be happy to play for $15,000 a hand," McMullan said.
The resort will offer a 50,000-square-foot casino with 1,200 slots and 40 table games, along with two private gaming rooms for those willing to bet $15,000 a hand.
No stranger to casino gaming, McMullan joined Seven Circle Resorts in 1992 after six years as director of gaming operations for Sun International.
Seven Circle owns the Resort at Summerlin and will manage it under a licensing agreement with Regent International. Seven Circle is a wholly owned subsidiary of Swiss Casinos of America Inc., itself a majority owned subsidiary of Swiss Casinos Holding AG.
Swiss Casinos Holding was formed in 1975 and operates gaming and entertainment facilities in Geneva, Locarno, Bern, Thun, Lugano, St. Moritz, Lucerne, Schaffhausen and Rheinfelden, as well as the Netherlands and Great Britain.
In the United States, Seven Circle operates the Teller House Casino in Blackhawk, Colo., and has management agreements with Indian casino owners in Texas and North Dakota.
But The Regent Grand Palms and Regent Grand Spa hotels will be decidedly more upscale than its other properties. The 54-acre site, which could hold three New York-New York hotel-casinos, will feature a $13.5 million complex of pools and gardens.
The resort also controls 50 percent of the tee times at the TPC at the Canyons golf course, making it an ideal destination for golf-minded business and tourist travelers.
McMullan said his executive team believes the two hotels will be able to command room prices above $200 a night. Even so, he said, "It's not about price. It's about the value you get for what you spend.
"We're harkening back to an older theme where somebody will know your name even if it's not Kerry Packer" (a famed high-roller from Australia), McMullan said.
"And we'll give you the ability to escape from the madding crowd."