Downtown Las Vegas will have a convention center within three to five years, according to Phil Flaherty, the chief operating officer of Barrick Gaming Corporation, which recently purchased the Plaza and three other Jackie Gaughan hotel-casinos.
The company, which has extensive real estate holdings in the downtown area, is also considering developing time-share units near the Plaza and other facilities that would upgrade downtown.
Flaherty made his prediction during a wide-ranging interview conducted just after his company completed its first 100 days as new owners.
In talking about proposals for downtown development he said there would be no sense in replacing the Neonopolis (which is experiencing financial problems) with a, say, hospital but it would make sense "to put a time-share component at the south end of the Plaza’s property."
Flaherty added, "It wouldn’t make sense to put a baseball diamond at the Western (hotel), but it would make sense to have a convention arena in the downtown property mix."
Barrick is also reportedly considering acquiring the Greyhound bus terminal next to the Plaza to expand the hotel, build a high-rise condominium and "accommodate" a downtown transportation hub that would include light rail, monorail, and local and long distance bus service. In a published report, Crystal said Barrick has not yet talked to Greyhound about relocating into a transportation hub. Crystal could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts.
Asked if Barrick is more interested in developing real estate projects than in building and expanding casinos, Flaherty said "Mr. (Steve) Crystal has a strong, strong background in development" and envisions a comprehensive plan for downtown Las Vegas. Crystal is Barrick’s co-founder, vice chairmen, president, and general counsel.
Flaherty added, however, that Barrick isn’t neglecting trying to pump up downtown Las Vegas. He said "advertisements are coming in the latter part of July (that will amount to) an interesting ad campaign to awaken interest in already wonderful properties."
In addition to the Plaza and Western, The Barrick Gaming Corporation bought the Gold Spike and Las Vegas Club from Gaughan. Barrick also has the option on Gaughan’s El Cortez.
Flaherty said Barrick is planning to transform the Western into a destination resort for Hispanics.
"We’re in the master plan and design stage at this point," he said. "We’re looking at a wide range of options including entertainment’’ as a way of attracting a Hispanic clientele.
He added Barrick will have an announcement on the makeover of the Western within a year, but for right now, "You can’t find a friendlier place to be than the Western at two o’clock in the morning."
Flaherty, who started his casino career as a staff accountant at the Silver Slipper in 1981, said he was hired after handing in a standard job application form at the Slipper’s human resource office. Flaherty, now 46, went on to work for several Summa Corporation properties including the Desert Inn and the Sands, as well as the original Castaways and the Landmark. All those hotels have since been demolished, a fact he laughingly acknowledges.
Asked if the Plaza’s new management team had developed any ideas on how to overcome the Strip’s advantage over downtown, Flaherty said, "I don’t have to overcome anything. The Strip would love to have our midweek occupancy rate," which he estimated at 92 percent.
He acknowledged the biggest challenge the new management team has faced concerns educating visitors about the geography of Las Vegas. He said his biggest frustration has been that visitors think downtown is connected to the Strip so the nature of the challenge Barrick is facing is "not about downtown but how to get to downtown."
"The downtown market is a lot stronger than we anticipated and there’s a significant demand for more of the downtown product than we had anticipated," he said. (Therefore there is a) need to add more hotel rooms."