If you’re waiting for the new owners of SLS Las Vegas to flip some magical switch and turn the beleaguered north Strip resort into a brand-new casino, get comfortable. You’ll be waiting a while.
The next strategy for the property originally opened as the Sahara in 1952 and refashioned into SLS in 2014 is still to be determined, but the Meruelo Group, which closed on its acquisition in early April, appears to be focused on the long game.
“I think it’s about optimizing what’s here, adding some elements that don’t exist yet, taking advantage of the flow and improving the flow in some areas,” says new Senior Vice President and General Manager Paul Hobson. “For example, the casino is pretty dark and has an open ceiling, so to sort of lighten it up and put a lid on certain places would make it feel more inviting and less imposing and create little pockets of energy that would feed the casino aspect of our business. If you’re looking for projects in the near term that will impact the property, I think they will be along those lines.”
The SLS has struggled to attract attention and traffic mostly due to its isolated location at Sahara and the Strip, an area where big tourism developments are on the way but still a few years off. Hobson and owner Alex Meruelo will need to build some new energy to sustain SLS until Resorts World, the Drew and the expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center arrive.
Meruelo founded his privately held management company focused on construction and real estate development in 1986 and didn’t expand into hospitality until 2011 with the purchase of the Grand Sierra Resort, one of the biggest and best-known casino-hotels in Reno. That property originally opened in the late ’70s as MGM Grand, an extension of the Vegas version, before changing to Bally’s and then the Reno Hilton.
With nearly 2,000 rooms, a massive convention center, bowling facility, movie theaters, a mini-mall and loads of restaurants, the Grand Sierra is similar to many Las Vegas Strip resorts. Meruelo spent $25 million to renovate the casino, rooms and restaurants, then continued by updating the sports book, spa and exterior and adding a nightclub.
SLS is a much different situation. It has a lot of great pieces to work with, including a stellar restaurant portfolio, a variety of entertainment venues and new meeting spaces and refurbished hotel rooms that are part of the W hotel within SLS, managed by Marriott Resorts.
“What I really like about it is the whole thing feels pretty intimate. I don’t know of another Las Vegas property that is of this human of a scale,” Hobson says. “It’s really cool that someone can pull up at the entrance, walk a few ticks to the front desk and check in, walk a few steps to the elevator and be in their room. The corridors at some properties are a quarter-mile from one end to another, and it doesn’t feel right. The scale of this feels right to me, and it’s important to the atmosphere we create.”
Hobson, a 25-year Las Vegan who has spent time with Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts and most recently at the nearby Stratosphere, says the SLS will look to take better advantage of its unique assets while it evaluates what needs to be added to the mix. One early option could be daylife, since the resort has the Foxtail pool and the smaller, more adult-oriented Retro pool to utilize. With its easy access and free parking, it’s not hard to imagine SLS as a pool party destination.
Overall, expect enhancement in the short term, possibly gearing up toward bigger changes later. “This is eventually going to be a very vibrant district with a lot of traffic and circulation from the big properties that are being developed now, but that’s a few years down the road,” Hobson says. “There’s going to be some immediate things we’re going to be doing that will serve the property well and lead to some great results.”