High altitude: New hotel chief removes ‘L’ from LVH marquee

David Siegel took the first step toward rebranding his newest Westgate resort Tuesday with a high-altitude assist to change the most visible sign on the property.

He got the L out of the LVH marquee.

Before a gathering of employees, family members and TV cameras, Siegel climbed into the basket of a crane lift, soared more than 200 feet into the air and removed the last brackets holding the 30-foot L on the sign on Paradise Road in front of the 30-story, 3,261-room hotel.

“The things I do for you guys,” Siegel said to colleagues as he strapped on safety harnesses before being hoisted into the air.

Siegel actually had some experience working in high places before he got into the hospitality industry. He worked as a lineman when he was 20, working for Southern California Edison and his claim to fame in that career was to help build the power line to bring electricity to Malibu, Calif.

“But I only climbed up 40 or 50 feet and I had to do wood poles with spikes,” he said. “This thing is 250 feet, so it’s a little different.”

Employees cheered as the L was detached and lowered to the ground where Siegel climbed out of the basket and posed with the massive letter.

Of all the sign changes needed on the 62-acre property, the massive marquee was the most imposing. Over the next few days, other signs will be changed and the company’s 2,000 employees will go into the personnel office to swap their LVH name badges for tags with the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino logo.

For many of the employees, Siegel’s publicity stunt was the first time they had seen the 79-year-old founder and CEO of Westgate Resorts. They’ll get more face time July 9 when the resort has what Siegel is calling a “town hall meeting” to greet employees.

In an interview, Siegel said none of the hotel’s employees would have to reapply for their jobs, a practice that occurs in some ownership changes. He said some management personnel would be brought to Las Vegas, mostly to emphasize Westgate’s commitment to customer service.

“We’re not going to be able to compete with Wynn, Bellagio, Aria or Genting when they get here,” Siegel said. “But we’re going to give personalized service. That’s more important to people than the physical plant.

“Ask anybody who has gone to Disney World what they enjoyed most about their experience — and they spend billions of dollars on rides and attractions. They usually say the employees,” he said. “They have clean-cut, friendly employees. That’s what we’re all about. We’re a family-run resort company. We care about people. They’re not numbers. Every guest is going to be treated like a high roller.”

Siegel isn’t saying how much he paid for the LVH, but added that “what I’m going to invest in it is going to dwarf what I paid.”

It’s Siegel’s ambition to invest some tender loving care to the property.

“It was in good shape when Hilton was here, but when the new company took it over, it didn’t want to invest in it,” Siegel said. “We’re going to take it back to its glory days and make it better than it was initially.”

While Westgate will maintain the property as a hotel, Siegel still plans initially to convert 200 rooms to timeshare. He said the timeshare market is better than ever when Westgate had a banner year in 2012.

“Then, in 2013, we beat those sales by 50 percent,” he said. “This year, we’re already ahead of 2013 by 30 percent.”

He said the PH Towers project at Planet Hollywood was ahead in sales and projections when lenders called the loan.

“They kind of pulled the carpet out from under me,” Siegel said. “I said, ‘You can’t do that,’ and they said, ‘Sue us.’ Once you sue a bank, you’ll never get another loan and my business depends on easy access to capital.”

Now that Westgate is firmly established in Las Vegas, Siegel said he plans to get more involved in Southern Nevada’s charitable causes.

His Westgate Resorts Foundation raises millions of dollars and supports hundreds of charities in the cities in which it has resorts.

Earlier this year, for the third straight year, Westgate gave 1,500 free vacations to military personnel who served in Afghanistan or Iraq.

“I like changing people’s lives,” Siegel said. “I like to help people and that’s one of the things we’re going to get started with our employees.”

Although Siegel’s home is in Florida, he said he plans to spend much of his time overseeing progress in Las Vegas. He also wants to spend time with his wife, Jackie, who has signed with Comcast to produce a reality television show that may include some episodes centered around the Westgate Las Vegas.

“I don’t plan to retire,” said Siegel. “I enjoy getting up every day and doing this and Westgate Las Vegas has rejuvenated me.”

Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow him on Twitter @RickVelotta.

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