Now comes the easy part.
Transforming the Rat Pack-era Sahara into the luxury-boutique SLS Las Vegas may be the smoothest aspect of this process started by Los Angeles-based SBE Entertainment in 2007.
The company plans to unveil the 1,620-room SLS Las Vegas in fall 2014.
Penta Building Group began the 18-month renovation of the old Sahara building last month. The general contractor is expected to create 1,600 construction-related jobs at the Strip location.
“Penta brought a lot of local (sub-contractors) into the project that have worked on every major casino over the history of building Las Vegas,” said SLS Las Vegas President Rob Oseland. “These guys came in and did a good job prescreening the site.”
SBE Entertainment had nearly two years to assess every detail of the former Sahara after shutting down the hotel-casino in May 2011. The hotel, restaurant and nightlife company — in partnership with private equity firm Stockbridge Capital Group of San Francisco — bought the 18-acre Sahara site in 2007.
SBE and Stockbridge secured the last pieces of $415 million in financing needed to convert the aging building into SLS Las Vegas in February. The initial $300 million was raised in April 2012.
Last week, construction crews began placing SLS signs at the front of the Sahara, removing images of the old Strip casino, including the Sahara marquee, much of the property’s Moroccan theme, and ads for the now-closed NASCAR Cafe.
Last year, the track and components for the Strip-front roller coaster were removed and sold.
“Much of the folklore from the past is being demolished, such as the House of Lords (restaurant) and the Congo Showroom,” Oseland said. “It’s kind of sad to see it go, but it is making way for the future.”
On March 4, SLS found out they weren’t alone in redeveloping the northern end of the Strip.
Malaysia-based Genting Group paid Boyd Gaming Corp. $350 million to acquire the mothballed Echelon development on the site of the former Stardust.
Genting said it would spend between $2 billion and $7 billion over the next few years to build the Asian-themed Resorts World Las Vegas. The project is expected to open in 2016.
The news invigorated SLS developers.
Oseland, a longtime gaming executive with Wynn Resorts and Mirage Resorts, said Genting’s entrance into the Las Vegas market came much more quickly than many had anticipated.
“We knew they had been looking,” Oseland said of the company, which operates hotel-casinos worldwide including Resorts World brands in Singapore and at New York City’s Aqueduct Racetrack. “I think the speed surprised everyone.”
The good news is the combination of SLS’s construction kickoff and the Genting announcement gave the Strip’s north end some much-needed positive news.
“People are developing confidence in the market,” Oseland said. “The fact that the growth is reoccurring shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. The timing of it is just earlier than expected.”
Based on the time line, SLS Las Vegas should be open and operating by the time Resorts World is well into construction.
When completed, SLS Las Vegas will have an ultramodern look and style with elements straight from Hollywood Boulevard and the Sunset Strip. Gensler Architects is overseeing the renovation along with designer Philippe Starck.
SBE Entertainment CEO Sam Nazarian said SLS Las Vegas mirrors SBE’s efforts with its other SLS hotels in Los Angeles and Miami’s South Beach and the under-construction SLS New York by taking an older, historic structure and redeveloping the property.
Other SLS hotels are being planned for Philadelphia, Seattle, Boston and Houston. SLS Las Vegas will be the largest SLS hotel in the company.
SBE will operate all the amenities inside the SLS Las Vegas, including the restaurants, nightlife, attractions and retail shops.
Four of SBE’s restaurant brands popular in the Los Angeles area — The Bazaar by Jose Andres, Katsuya by Starck, Umami Burger and The Griddle Cafe — will operate at SLS Las Vegas. Among the nightclub offerings is The Sayers Club.
In November, SBE announced an agreement with Los Angeles retailer Fred Segal to place seven different outlets throughout the property.
As for employment, Oseland said SLS Las Vegas is rounding out its senior executive management team. The resort will eventually employ roughly 2,700 workers, but the initial hiring process won’t begin until early 2014.
If SLS experiences anything like past hotel-casino hiring events, property officials expect upward of 100,000 applications.
For now, the renovation is No. 1 on the to-do list.
Clark County commissioners approved the plans to reduce the hotel’s original size by more than 100 rooms. Nazarian said the three existing hotel towers will remain, but two will be stripped down. A low-rise hotel structure will be torn down, and the 2,500-space parking garage would remain in place.
A promotional video and conceptual model depict several SLS restaurants and shops along the Strip and the pool area.
Oseland said the idea is to keep the physical area of the former Sahara’s public area, but modify the original layout.
“The bones of the building remain in the same place, but they all got expanded and extended,” Oseland said.
For now, SLS is looking at additional nightlife options. A “big box” nightclub is being located inside the property that will have a stage large enough for popular performers.
“The working name is ‘Shelter,’ but that might not be final,” Oseland said.
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at email@example.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.