As We See It

[The Incidental Tourist]

Downtown Grand remains focused on building something unique

Grand entrance: Downtown Grand is quietly doing things a bit differently.
Mona Shield Payne

When Downtown Grand opened last year, it did so as quietly as a new Las Vegas casino ever has.

While the 634-room resort is certainly well-positioned—just steps away from Downtown’s classic Fremont Street casinos, and a few blocks from the Fremont East Entertainment District and Zappos headquarters—there were several significant shadows from which it would need to emerge. Downtown Grand usurped the space of the Lady Luck, which had been closed for seven very long years. Its ambitious, somewhat upscale plans aimed for a broader customer base than Downtown Vegas’ typical draw. Timing topped off those challenges, as the casino and hotel soft-opened within days of the inaugural Life Is Beautiful Festival, one of the biggest weekends Downtown has seen in decades.

Downtown Grand celebrated its anniversary last month—again, in the shadows of LIB’s sequel—and capped a first year that saw plenty of experimentation, change and adjustment, including July’s announcement of four new executives in key positions. There’s a local perception that the place is struggling to find its way and attract enough visitors to create success. But the reality is that Downtown Grand is just doing business in a different and flexible way.

“I think what we found is that while part of our philosophy and business plan was to offer the intimacy of a boutique hotel, there has been a lot more demand to program [private] events using those aspects of the property than we anticipated,” said CEO Seth Schorr. “Some of our best events at Picnic or at Commissary have been when outside companies rented the space and threw some of the best parties we’ve seen. Google did one, and the Las Vegas Business Academy did one with 20 different restaurants from around the city all involved in one event.”

Private events and corporate gatherings also have taken place at the Mob Bar and Red Mansion Chinese restaurant, the latter of which has been converted into a full-time meeting and events space. Picnic, the rooftop pool, recently received the 2014 Meeting Venue of the Year Award from the National Association for Catering and Events Las Vegas Chapter.

That doesn’t mean the Grand has become a banquet hall. Schorr said hotel occupancy runs above 80 percent during the week and is virtually sold out on weekends, and “out of the gate, all our responses and online ratings immediately rated us at the top of the market in terms of service, friendliness, cleanliness and value, all the things a hotel operator is focused on, and we’ve maintained that.”

Downtown Grand is an undiscovered bounty of deals. The charming Art Bar offers half-off everything from 4 to 7 p.m. every day. Through the end of the year, locals with a valid ID and a My Points membership card get half-off menu items at the Commissary and S&O restaurants.

On the casino floor, where about 30 percent of patrons are locals, Schorr plans to add more entertainment, including a live-music stage that should be up and running in time for National Finals Rodeo visitors in early December. There could be comedy and burlesque programming coming to that repurposed restaurant space. In regard to pulling more Fremont Street Experience traffic over to the Grand, there are plans to activate some retail outlets on the usually barren sidewalk between Ogden Avenue and Fremont Street, and to further develop the weekend outdoor promotions and street activities on Third.

When you’re talking about the revitalization of Downtown Las Vegas, you have to remember every development is just a piece of a bigger picture, and Downtown Grand is no different. In fact, the resort is just one piece of Fifth Street Gaming’s big picture, which includes the Downtown 3rd bars, restaurants and farmers market, the Mob Museum, and a yet-to-emerge retail district that will wrap around the museum offering more entertainment and food and beverage options.

Schorr said that project is on schedule but wouldn’t say exactly when construction would kick into gear. “We always had a phase development plan, and we’re excited over the next year to see more,” he said, noting the company is considering some sort of tent structure to host outdoor entertainment. “Our team has done a fantastic job, we’ve had a great response from locals, and we just want to keep the people coming.”

In a 2012 interview—10 months before the casino opened—Schorr told us Downtown Grand would be unique, authentic and interesting: “I don’t think anyone will walk in and say ‘I’ve seen this before,’ or think it’s a version of some other … property.” One year in, it looks like he was right, even if not everyone has discovered it yet.

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Brock is an award-winning writer who has been documenting life in Las Vegas for 20 years. He currently leads entertainment ...

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