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Mecca preps the Aladdin

Jul 13, 2004 6:43 AM

Mike Mecca bulldozed his way through the casino at the Aladdin Resort last week "with a bunch of guys and a bunch of blueprints."

That’s how employees describe their boss’s inspection as they await the $100 million renovation of the resort "starting after Labor Day."

Mecca is not allowed to talk to the reporters — or even pose for a fresh photograph.

"Use the ones you have," the hotel flacks order, adding that all publicity must come from the corporate offices of Planet Hollywood in Los Angeles, which last year bought the resort out of bankruptcy for $635 million.

A consummate gaming executive, Mecca has a love affair with Las Vegas, in spite of a Rust Belt stint in which he opened Detroit’s Greektown Casino (Bill Paulos and Bill Wortman recruited Mecca to run Greektown). Paulos and Mecca worked for Crown Casinos in Melbourne, Australia, and for Circus Circus in Las Vegas. Mecca and Wortman worked together at Caesars Palace, where Paulos pitched the Greektown job to Mecca.

Mecca ran things when Mandalay Bay opened. A 1980 University of Oklahoma graduate (foreign affairs degree), he taught college classes and, on Oklahoma’s Shawnee Indian Reservation, he worked with children having a hard time adapting to schooling.

He taught English Lit, and coached football and basketball in Passaic, N.J. Mecca started running hotels in the mid 1970s in Valencia, Calif., and then Denver, Colo. He got into gaming as assistant GM of the King 8 Hotel Casino in Las Vegas in 1977. A couple of years later, Bob Stupak picked Mecca to run his Vegas World, which was later turned into the Stratosphere. He also worked for Caesars World (1981-1994) at various Nevada resorts. He then traveled across the Pacific to Melbourne, Australia’s Galleria Casino (largest in the southern hemisphere). Mecca then joined Paulos on the Greektown casino project in Detroit.

Paulos and Wortman came back from Detroit to buy the Resort at Summerlin (now the Rampart casino) out of bankruptcy, then build and open (with paving magnate Bob Mendenhall) the expanding Cannery hotel-casino in North Las Vegas. Mecca returned to Southern Nevada’s warmth as general manager of the Green Valley Ranch Casino and Spa in 2001.

The Planet Hollywood executive package includes founder and CEO Robert Earl, Bay Harbour Management LLC, and Starwood Hotels and Resorts, the latter no stranger to the Las Vegas scene.

That front entrance to the Aladdin (seven levels of a 16-step climb from the Strip plus one escalator) will be among the first items tackled in the $100 million re-make.

Robert Earl promises "a completely updated dining and entertainment strategy," addressing perhaps the problem of both the hotel lobby and the Spice Market Buffet one floor below the casino.

There will be changes on the casino floor, too, although the space between banks of slot machines is perhaps already the roomiest along the Strip.

The remodeling will make celebrity suites of the hotel’s top floors, reflecting the lives and careers of some of our most devoted movie stars, according to Earl. Suites on the lower floors will have themes from top-grossing films.

Earl says major headline acts will be booked into the Theatre for the Performing Arts, which will also be home to weekly Hollywood-style movie premieres.

Starwood, through its Sheraton brand, will run just the hotel. A 600-unit Westin Vacation resort is also planned on the property.

The deal doesn’t include the adjoining Desert Passage mall.