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New owner vows to revitalize Sahara

Jul 22, 2008 7:01 PM

Staff & Wire Reports | Like most of the resorts on the north end of the Las Vegas Strip, the 56-year-old Sahara could use an infusion of new blood.

The aging hotel – which was the original setting for the Rat Pack-hip movie "Ocean’s Eleven" – has become a haven for low rollers and bargain hunters hoping for a comp to see Roseanne Barr, the current headliner.

That will all change if the Sahara’s new owner is true to his word. Sam Nazarian, whose company purchased the property for $300 million last year, has vowed to make the Sahara the resort of choice for the trendy twentysomething party crowd.

"There is an alienation of the high-energy, youthful crowd (in Las Vegas)," Nazarian recently told the Wall Street Journal, adding that his upscale neighbors such as Wynn Las Vegas and soon-to-open Encore have priced themselves beyond the youthful sect.

That’s a group that Nazarian knows plenty about.

Nazarian’s nightclubs and restaurants in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, such as Area, Hyde, Foxtail and S Bar, have become hangouts for A-list celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.

The 32-year-old entrepreneur has also launched a luxury hotel brand, SLS (for style, luxury, service), with its first property expected to open in Beverly Hills this fall, with another one planned for Miami.

His success notwithstanding, Nazarian has his work cut out for him. He’s opted out of the implosion and rebuild route. Instead he intends to renovate and remodel.

He won’t say how much he plans to spend, nor has he revealed architectural plans, except that "There’s not one part of this property we’re not touching," he told the Wall Street Journal.

Nazarian has already put about $2 million into refurbishing the hotel common areas, and has said he intends to build a new hotel tower with guest rooms priced at $200 a night, about six times the current rate, though about half of what Wynn, Bellagio and other Strip giants currently command.

And the makeover isn’t expected to be completed until 2011.

But all indications point to a property that will fit in with the brightest and glitziest resorts on the Strip.

"He’s got some unbelievably great plans," said Larry Woolf, president of Navegante Group, which is running the casino while SBE Entertainment, Nazarian’s company, seeks a Nevada gaming license.

It will be interesting to see those plans unfold. Since the economic downturn has dampened the optimism of several hotel developers, a revitalized Sahara would be a welcome addition to the Strip.