It took three years of cajoling and negotiation to lead to this week's announcement that Denny's would locate a restaurant in the struggling Neonopolis retail complex on Fremont Street.
Neonopolis owner Rohit Joshi initially sent an email blast to more than 200 franchise holders to ferret out interest, but he could not come to terms with anyone. More than a year ago, he turned his attention to Denny's headquarters in Spartanburg, S.C. -- and even then progress was slow.
During a tour of the new site on Wednesday, Denny's CEO John Miller said the company's first reaction was to install one of its quick and casual concepts there. But Joshi insisted on and won agreement that it would be a standard, sit-down Denny's -- with a Las Vegas flair.
"For us, this is an underserved market," said Miller, referring to the heart of Las Vegas. "We think more and more people are finding their way to Fremont Street."
Accompanying Miller was an architect from New York, who will review the 5,300-square-foot onetime sushi restaurant and create ideas for a design that will take Sin City-style liberties with Denny's solidly middle-America template. Exactly what kind of liberties remain to be seen.
"Clearly this is a one-off project," he said. "We will do things beyond the norm, but it will still be approachable."
And it will have the same menu as any standard Denny's.
Denny's 20-year lease takes a ground-floor space on the southwest corner of Neonopolis, giving direct exposure to pedestrians. One of the design flaws of Neonopolis, said Joshi, was that much of it is an inner courtyard largely invisible from the street.
Miller expects to open the restaurant within a year.
Denny's comes to downtown at a time when the company is trying to jump start itself. For several years, the number of outlets hovered around 1,550. A rejuvenated franchise program raised the total to 1,665 by March 31. Revenues in the four years through 2010 fell 45 percent to $548.5 million, while profits from continuing operations dropped 21 percent, to $22.7 million.
Still, the Denny's lease represents to Joshi a critical building block for his strategy to resuscitate Neonopolis, a city-backed redevelopment project that long remained empty as various retailers, restaurants and entertainment venues came and went.
Previous efforts to fill the space went nowhere. Several proposals, such as moving the Star Trek: The Experience exhibit from the Las Vegas Hilton, fizzled. This made Joshi a target of complaints by city officials, including Mayor Oscar Goodman, about creating an eyesore.
Joshi said he wanted to anchor the complex with a couple of tenants that had solid credit ratings backed by large companies. The Spanish-language Telemundo television network owned by NBC Universal took the top floor as a studio in 2009.
Since then, Joshi said he has signed leases with an Italian restaurant, a deli, a small museum and several pushcart vendors, among others. At this point, he estimates that about half of the 250,000-square-foot Neonopolis is leased.
Contact reporter Tim O'Reiley at email@example.com or 702-387-5290.