Nevadan at Work: You can go home again: career takes exec back to Mirage


In a way, Felix Rappaport was sent home in October.

MGM Resorts International installed Rappaport as president of The Mirage last fall, which was part of a series of property management changes at the company's resorts along the Strip.

Rappaport, 58, had overseen Luxor since 2005, adding the Excalibur to his duties in 2009.

He has worked at eight hotel-casinos in Las Vegas during his career, but The Mirage holds a special feeling for him.

The property provided his first job in Las Vegas after he came West from Philadelphia in 1991.

Rappaport, who managed hotels in the Philadelphia area, was brought to Mirage Resorts to be the vice president of hotel operations, overseeing the property's 3,000 rooms. The largest hotel he managed in Philadelphia had roughly 500 rooms.

"I remember vividly thinking to myself, 'How the heck do we provide a high level of service for 3,000 rooms?'" Rappaport recalled. "It's through good organization and good preparation. Whatever number we set as a forecast in the hotel division, happily, we usually exceeded it and blew by it."

The Mirage's opening in 1989 kicked off a more than 20-year building boom along the Strip and throughout Las Vegas. The property, once considered the Strip's benchmark, has been surpassed by other resorts.

Still, MGM Resorts, which acquired the property in 2000, spent more than $500 million over the past few years to upgrade The Mirage. Rappaport plans to add his own touches to the hotel-casino, such as changing out the property's restaurant offerings.

It's a much different role than his most recent jobs, in which he oversaw a complete upgrade and redesign of Luxor and remodeling projects at New York-New York.

"When The Mirage opened, it was at the top of its game," Rappaport said. "The company reinvested in the property to make it relevant. The good news is the Mirage is much further evolved than Luxor or New York-New York. Those were clearly turnaround situations."

His initial challenge before he had even unpacked his belongings was addressing the persistent rumors that The Mirage is for sale or is about to be sold to Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin. Rappaport hopes he has quelled the speculation.

Question: Is The Mirage for sale?

Answer: The first week I was here I heard rumors through some colleagues. I went right to the source and I called (MGM Resorts Chairman and CEO) Jim Murren. He said absolutely not. The Mirage was not for sale.

I've had lunch with Phil Ruffin because we're neighbors. We share a tram, an employee parking garage and landscaping. We want to be good neighbors. Phil said flat out, in a perfect world, he'd love the opportunity to have The Mirage be part of his portfolio. He also readily admits that it's not for sale and Jim Murren has said it's not for sale. The reality is The Mirage is not for sale.

Question: Were you surprised your career brought you back to The Mirage?

Answer: When Jim asked me to come back, it was a total surprise. It was pitched to me as a homecoming and that's how it has felt. About 25 percent of the employees are Day One employees whom I have worked with before and built close friendships (with). I've told employees that if I could end my career here, I would be very happy. There is a catchphrase we use in advertising The Mirage that predates me coming back. We say, "Vegas starts here."

Question: What is The Mirage's market?

Answer: We're a very balanced property. We operate out of the four basic market segments and have a four-pronged approach. We don't have the largest convention facility on the Strip, but it's convenient and it has a beautiful events center. We do well in the convention market. We have a good transient market, a good leisure market and we have been building and maintaining the casino base.

On weekends, we skew to a much younger crowd because of the nightlife options we offer. We have customers that have been loyal to the property for 20 years. Our challenge, as the property has evolved, is to retain our older, loyal customers who are our best table game and slot machine players, while continuing to market to the younger audience looking for more nightlife.

Question: What changes are you planning for The Mirage?

Answer: Moving forward we need to focus on improving our dining options. We currently lack a four-star or four-diamond restaurant. We don't have a national or international brand recognition. I've been in this business for 30 years and I know a lot of top chefs in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia. Part of my mission is to go out and help bring some of these top chefs to The Mirage.

My goal is get four chefs interested, all of who would be new to the market. I think that would take The Mirage to the next level.

Question: Why did you leave Mirage Resorts after five years in 1996 to go to Station Casinos?

Answer: I had an opportunity to run a property. My whole background was in hotel operations. Station Casinos gave me an opportunity to run Boulder Station where I learned about slot and table games management, casino marketing, advertising, compliance, casino-cage management and financial issues. It was a great training ground.

Question: What brought you back to the Strip?

Answer: It was a tough decision, but Bill Hornbuckle and Dan Wade asked me to be the executive vice president of MGM Grand. I learned the gaming side at Boulder Station, but I realized as magnificent as some of those locals casinos are, there is nothing like being on the Strip. That's where the action is.

Question: What is it like occupying Steve Wynn's old office at The Mirage?

Answer: Jim Murren told me it's the best corporate office in the company, and he's got a pretty nice office at Bellagio. It's the only office with a garden and I can practically drive into my office. My children like coming here because it's got a great pantry. I saw Steve at a function about a month ago and he wished me well in this job.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871.

 

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