Las Vegas Sun

August 1, 2021

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Stratosphere execs eye new features for resort

The Stratosphere is considering a variety of new features to drive additional revenue to the resort, including a convention center, nightclub and indoor racetrack, company officials say.

The property's management team is in the process of reviewing a master plan adopted about three years ago upon the appointment of Richard Brown, who joined the Stratosphere as executive vice president of marketing and was promoted to chief executive last year.

The review follows a three-year growth phase that involved the 2001 addition of 1,000 rooms to the resort and will culminate this fall in the debut of another thrill ride atop the Stratosphere tower, officials say.

"There's been a lot of focus on getting through these projects," Stratosphere spokesman Michael Gilmartin said. Meanwhile, he said, "the political and business climate has changed so much in the past few years. Now we're looking at what the trends are because everything's been up in the air."

The construction of the monorail system along the Strip -- expected to stop at or near the Stratosphere along the way -- also has led management to start considering new attractions, he said.

One of the proposals involves an indoor Grand Prix-style go-cart track where customers would compete against one another. The Stratosphere also is considering adding a nightclub in a 27,000-square-foot space adjacent to the casino floor.

"We're fortunate here in that we still have space to develop," Brown said in an interview last week with In Business Las Vegas, a sister publication of the Las Vegas Sun. "We think the opportunities here at this property are spectacular because we have space and we think the development coming down towards the north end of the Strip is just going to be fantastic for the property."

Brown wouldn't definitively say the property would move ahead with the projects. But Gilmartin said the company is "seriously considering" the additions as part of a longer-term plan to enhance the property.

In less than five years, financier Carl Icahn has transformed the once-bankrupt landmark into a profitable enterprise that uses value-priced rooms and attractions to draw customers from the hustle and bustle of the Strip to its location just north of Sahara Avenue.

The property's most profitable business generated in its tower, which features the High Roller coaster and the Big Shot thrill ride. The tower also houses the Top of the World restaurant and lounge and space for meetings and weddings.

As the Stratosphere's first chief executive under Icahn, Brown has overseen several key projects at the resort, including a $100 million expansion in 2001 that included the hotel tower, a pool and recreation deck and a 3,600-seat outdoor events center. He also led a $4.5 million casino expansion at Arizona Charlie's West and a $5 million casino addition at Arizona Charlie's East, both Icahn properties.

The Stratosphere is still dogged by the image that it is struggling from its north end location in a tough part of town, said Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor gambler newsletter. It's a perception that stems back to the property's bankruptcy under controversial casino operator Bob Stupak. But it doesn't reflect reality, he said.

Icahn has since transformed the Stratosphere into an upper-tier property that is "virtually unrecognizable" from the casino Stupak built, said Curtis, who recently featured the property as his top overall pick in the recent book edition of Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel.

"(Stupak) built the shell of something really great, he just wasn't able to carry it through," he said. "What they picked up was a tremendous property with tremendous potential."

While casinos nationwide are fighting to distinguish themselves from the pack, the Stratosphere has leveraged its distinguishing feature -- the tallest freestanding tower west of the Mississippi -- to good effect, he said.

"Nationally, I think the Stratosphere is beginning to get their due," he said.

Other upgrades already are under way at the Stratosphere.

They include further revamping the entryway to the observation tower by removing arcade games around the entrance and adding features that will be "more pleasant" for guests, Brown said.

"I think it creates an expectation of what's to happen upstairs when you're downstairs -- whereas before we didn't feel we were delivering on that expectation," he said. The carnival atmosphere didn't mesh with the experience of eating at the upscale Top of the World restaurant or enjoying spectacular views from the observation deck above, he said.

A small restaurant and retail shops are under consideration at the base of the tower, he said.

Near the Stratosphere showroom, not far from the tower entrance, tables and chairs have been added so patrons can enjoy live piano music and relax before entering a show.

Outside the resort, the Stratosphere has examined other projects such as adding a convention center, moving its ampitheater to accommodate the monorail system and enhancing the entrance to the property, Brown said.

The Stratosphere could effectively attract convention-goers given its proximity to the Las Vegas Convention Center, he said. Another entryway would be possible "if land around the property became available and it was reasonable," he said.

Working for Icahn, who also owns the Sands resort in Atlantic City, has its advantages, he said.

Icahn carries very little debt and is therefore able to move quickly on projects, he said. He has still passed on numerous deals nationwide because he doesn't believe they can reap enough return on investment.

"It's a whole risk-reward thing every time we look at those deals," he said. Still, he said, "we're in a position as entrepreneurs that we can probably take chances that many public companies can't take."

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