New owners hope to revitalize downtown

Jul 15, 2003 6:41 AM

The recent flurry of sales and building activity in downtown Las Vegas could be a good sign for casino operators.

Despite declining gaming revenues in eight of the past 11 months, a bevy of new hotel owners are optimistic about turning the tide downtown.

Terry Caudill, who is expected to be approved by Nevada regulators next week as the new Four Queens owner, plans to completely refurbish the aging casino, convert the casino’s 1,200 slots to ticket-in, ticket-out technology and "heavily market" to both locals and tourists alike.

"We’re really excited about the opportunity to help revitalize downtown," said Caudill, who reportedly paid about $20 million to Elsinore Corp. for the Four Queens.

Caudill, who owns a string of Magoos taverns in Southern Nevada, said he plans to use many of the marketing techniques that have served him at his slot bars.

"The local customer and the downtown customer are both very value-oriented," he said.

In another announced sale, Tim Poster and Tom Breitling, founders of Travelscape.com, have agreed to purchase the Golden Nuggets in downtown Las Vegas and Laughlin for a reported $215 million.

They, too, plan to upgrade the downtown property, and help revive Las Vegas’ "glory days" of personalized service and player-friendly entertainment.

"We want to revive the bygone Las Vegas feel and make the Golden Nugget properties the first choice of visitors," Poster said.

Toward that end, the hotels will emphasize customer service, return to headliner entertainment, and integrate high technology into the hotels’ room reservation and marketing systems "in order to further drive growth," Poster said.

The Golden Nugget sale is expected to close by the end of the year.

In other action, Barrick Gaming has entered into an agreement to buy most of Jackie Gaughan’s downtown holdings — the Plaza, Las Vegas Club, Gold Spike and Western hotels — for about $82 million.

Even though the financing is not yet in place, the potential purchasers have applied for their gaming licenses and plan to upgrade the properties with more hotel rooms, meeting and convention space and other amenities, once the sale is completed.

"Thanks to the vision of pioneers (like Jackie Gaughan), the future of downtown Las Vegas is both exciting and inviting," said Stephen Crystal, vice chairman and co-founder of Barrick Gaming.

Finally, a new cocktail lounge, the Icehouse, opened two weeks ago at Main Street and Bonneville.

The stand-alone tavern, a Miami modern affair, was built from the ground up, and features a restaurant and live entertainment.

The new owners hope to generate a loyal Happy Hour crowd in an area that has mostly gone down hill in recent years.

But opening a place called the "Icehouse" when temperatures are topping 115 degrees is probably a good move. Time will tell.