EDITORIAL: Sahara reborn as SLS

Strip hotel openings, once annual affairs of one-upmanship, are especially worthy of celebration today because they’re so rare. This weekend’s opening of the SLS Las Vegas should resonate with anyone in Southern Nevada who remembers the good old days, who fought through the Great Recession, who believed that with hard work and vision, eventually, things could get better.

SLS operator Sam Nazarian, the 39-year-old CEO of Los Angeles-based SBE Entertainment, led the purchase of the nearly 60-year-old Sahara before Las Vegas went bust, then held on for dear life to reinvent it, rather than raze it. When the property closed in 2011, there was no shortage of people who believed it would never reopen.

“A lot of people counted out Las Vegas as a city,” Mr. Nazarian told the Review-Journal’s Howard Stutz. “A lot of people counted us out.”

Among them: Terry Fancher, the CEO of Stockbridge Real Estate Holdings. During this month’s gaming license hearing in Carson City for SLS, Mr. Fancher said his fund expected to lose its sizable investment in the property. “It’s a miracle we’re here today. We could have lost this project so many times.”

Instead, late Friday night, the finished product was formally unveiled: a $415 million renovation that created a 1,620-room hotel with nine restaurants, three nightlife venues and plenty of hat tips to the property it replaced. Tributes to the old Sahara, which hosted a who’s who of Las Vegas entertainment legends, can be found on SLS carpets and in the building structure that was saved.

“We kept the integrity of the location, but we created new energy,” Mr. Nazarian said.

It would be hard to imagine the Strip without the Sahara — a road with the same name runs past it.

SLS Las Vegas is the biggest new hotel to open in the valley since the Cosmopolitan was finished in 2010. The project’s completion means 3,400 people have jobs — and that everyone who said Las Vegas would dig out from rock bottom has been validated.