Barrick to expand downtown

Feb 1, 2005 1:46 PM

Construction work that could begin in less than a year will turn two aging, low-end downtown properties into "quality boutique hotels ”¦ with a quality retail component," according to Steve Crystal, co-founder and chairman of the Barrick Gaming Corporation.

In an interview with GamingToday, Crystal unveiled the plans and goals of his company, which entered the downtown Las Vegas hotel-casino market last March when it purchased the Plaza, Las Vegas Club, Western and the Gold Spike from Jackie Gaughan.

Since then, Barrick has purchased the Hotel Nevada and the Queen of Hearts motels, which could be converted to condos, Crystal said, although he would not speculate except to say both undertakings will be "quality projects." He added the properties will offer a full range of gaming after they are converted and they will stay open until the construction work begins.

Since buying the Gaughan properties, Barrick has been consolidating and improving operations, acclimating 2,000 employees to Barrick’s way of doing things and spending up to $10 million to upgrade the properties.

"It’s easy to underestimate the time needed to build a cohesive operating team," Crystal said. "We’re trying to go from four different fiefdoms to one brand (with) one service standard, and that standard being a very high one."

Crystal also articulated Barrick’s position on the much-discussed 61 acres behind the Plaza. Recently Mayor Oscar Goodman raised the possibility that gaming might be included in the plans now being formulated for the area by The Related Companies.

Speculation had focused on the area being home to an academic medical center, performing arts center, residential and commercial buildings, an Alzheimer center and, more recently, a baseball stadium.

Crystal said Barrick’s understanding was that the mayor would endorse gaming for the 61 acres only if it were necessary for the financial survival of the project. "It’s clear that the 61 acres do not require gaming to succeed financially," Crystal said.

The Related Companies have until early May to come up with a plan for the 61 acres and Crystal said he thinks they’re ahead of schedule. He added he thinks The Related Companies will recommend a project that their track record says will succeed.

Crystal said Barrick would be interested in developing a portion of the 61 acres for an expansion of the Plaza.

Crystal said bringing the Las Vegas Monorail to downtown would be a boost, but delays and low ridership levels played a part in federal funding not materializing. He predicted, however, the monorail could reach downtown within three years, the result of public and private funding.

In addition to upgrading their downtown holdings, Barrick has plans for the Golden Nugget in Laughlin, which it purchased late last year.

"Despite the perception that Laughlin is a slow-growth or no-growth area, Barrick thinks Laughlin is growing," Crystal said. "The Golden Nugget is an excellent start. Over time it makes sense to add additional rooms and casino space. We see a lot of the same characteristics in Laughlin that we saw in downtown" (Las Vegas).

He says Barrick thought the price for the Golden Nugget was "affordable" and he holds out the possibility that Barrick "could become a market leader" in Laughlin by consolidating several properties in the border city.