Jonathan Jossel was 19 years old and already on the fast track in the business world when he experienced downtown Las Vegas for the first time.
Jossel, now the point man in this project to revitalize the Plaza Hotel and Casino at the west end of the Fremont Experience, was less than impressed with what he saw back then.
It was 2004. He had been sent here for work experience by the Tamares Group, an investment company in London that purchased the Plaza and other Las Vegas properties.
“I was not taken by downtown,” Jossel admitted. “2004 was a pretty bad time to be downtown. Beyond Fremont Street, there was nothing else. You couldn’t cross Las Vegas Boulevard and come to Fremont East, where all the bars are (now). There wasn’t an Arts District yet, there wasn’t a Symphony Park yet.”
After six weeks of living in the Plaza, Jossel decided he’d had enough.
“Thanks for the opportunity but I’m not going to stay here,” he said.
Jossel returned to London and worked in more traditional real estate for a while. His heart, however, was not in it.
This is a guy who wrote his thesis at the University of Birmingham (England), on “The Proliferation of the Gaming Industry in the UK.”
He needed more action.
“I was always interested in the gaming industry in general,” Jossel said. “I enjoy playing games myself. I enjoy the math behind it, the odds behind it. I liked to place sports bets and go to the casino in London.”
In 2007, Jossel’s mentor, Poju Zabludowicz, the chairman of Tamares, asked him to give Las Vegas another try.
Jossel had met Zabludowicz through mutual family friends. Zabludowicz convinced him that the downtown district here was on the verge of change.
Jossel returned and quickly recognized there was indeed a new vision in the works. He met Sam Cherry and Michael Cornthwaite, two young entrepreneurs. Cherry was developing residential high-rises while Cornthwaite was opening bars and other businesses over at Fremont East.
It was a completely different culture than what Jossel had experienced three years earlier downtown.
“People were trying to get involved with each other,” he said. “People were supporting each other’s businesses.”
Jossel was sold. He and the Plaza, thanks to Zabludowicz’s support, survived the financial crisis of 2008. A couple years later, the hotel and casino underwent a massive $35 million renovation.
Jossel became licensed and officially took over as operator of the Plaza in 2014. He’s the quintessential “hands-on” boss, constantly walking the floor to talk with customers and employees, often seven days a week, even on Saturday nights.
A “party pit” with blackjack and roulette tables – and a view from the street – was recently added to help enhance the atmosphere near the entrance.
The pool deck is being renovated. A sportsbook, run by William Hill, was remodeled and is the downtown’s largest. Oscar’s steakhouse, named after former mayor Oscar Goodman, is considered one of the finest restaurants around. Jossel also brags about having the only bingo room in downtown.
The addition of a new entertainment show should be announced any day. They are also contemplating how to best utilize some additional 10 acres of property that sit adjacent to the facility.
Cherry, who owns Cherry Development and is a frequent Plaza customer, has been impressed.
“It’s a completely different place,” Cherry said. “He (Jossel) has a great rapport with (the employees). You can see that translate to the customer. It’s really shaped up to be a nice gem for downtown.”
The numbers are starting to show a turnaround. Gaming revenue was up about 27 percent in November over the same month the previous year at the Plaza.
“We’re doing much better, but I think we have way more potential,” Jossel said of the 1,000-plus room hotel and casino with the address of 1 Main Street.
Jossel has totally bought into this future of downtown despite that bad first taste. He even lives in a nearby high-rise with his wife, Emily.
“You can’t tell someone, ‘I’m making downtown great,’ then live in Summerlin,” he said. “You’ve got to walk the walk.”
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