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‘I fell in love’: Fans remember Mirage as closure looms

Updated May 16, 2024 - 6:30 am

Alan Feldman remembers the anxiety that reigned on Nov. 22, 1989, the evening when The Mirage first opened its doors.

“There was the normal chaos that occurs anytime you open a new property with all the last-minute things that had to be done,” he recalled.

Feldman said he stood with the resort’s founder Steve Wynn and his wife Elaine on the inside of the property and couldn’t see what was happening outside on Las Vegas Boulevard.

“I remember at the opening when Steve finally told the head of security to open the gates,” he said. “Who knew if there was anyone even there? As it turned out, there were thousands of people in the streets waiting to get in.”

So began the era of themed megaresorts, as The Mirage was the first of several others to appeal to a new Las Vegas customer fascinated with the faux existence of a faraway place.

The Mirage’s chapter is coming to a close. On Wednesday, Hard Rock International — the new operators of the resort since it was acquired in 2022 — announced it will close the property on July 17 for a roughly three-year renovation. The company plans to build a 660-foot tall, all-suite hotel tower shaped like a guitar, along with other sweeping renovations inside the main building.

It’s bittersweet for some fans of the property. While visiting to film a video for his TikTok page, Las Vegas resident Mike Johnson said he had mixed feelings about the change.

“I fell in love with The Mirage when I was a kid,” Johnson said, recalling scenes from the film “Vegas Vacation.” “That’s what made me want to move here.”

‘A different world’

The opening of The Mirage was such a hit that restaurants ran out of beer and the casino ran out of coins — a significant problem in that era.

Wynn copied liberally from Jay Sarno’s Caesars Palace vision to come up with something new and different and it turned out to be a home run for the public.

“It was an opportunity to allow people to live in a different world and I think that’s what he was looking at,” said Feldman, now the Distinguished Fellow in Responsible Gaming at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute.

“He was looking backward in a sense at all of the great work that Jay Sarno did at Caesars because that’s really what Caesars was about and Steve made no secret of the fact that he admired and studied Sarno’s work, and that to a great extent, the ground plan at The Mirage on day one mirrored in many, many, many different respects the ground plan at Caesars Palace.”

Now, that all comes to an end with the pending closure of The Mirage and a transformation into Hard Rock Las Vegas.

Gaming industry analyst Brendan Bussmann said it would have been a very tall order for Hard Rock to try to keep the property open through millions of dollars in renovation. Hard Rock officials’ public plans said they expected a rolling renovation until Wednesday’s announcement.

“Keeping a property open during a major renovation is always a challenge, especially trying to keep at a certain level of service so it makes sense to shut down the property to minimize the inconvenience to guests and staff,” said Bussmann, an industry analyst with Las Vegas-based B Global.

“While it is a hit to the bottom line of the property, the challenges of a prolonged construction schedule sometimes negate that as well as the guest experience. Hard Rock International made the determination that it was in their best interest to take one swipe at this and open up with a fresh experience at an iconic property. I think we have seen what happens when you try to do a remodel in this town. It becomes difficult with the size and scope of these properties to maintain the experience and keep the trains running on time.”

Amanda Belarmino, an assistant professor at UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hospitality, said Hard Rock’s decision to close could create some hard feelings among those who expected the property to stay open during renovations, a position property managers originally took.

Bitter taste for employees

“It is very sad for the workers, to see them laid off,” Belarmino said. “Unlike when the Hard Rock rebranded to Virgin, this is a late announcement that will cause issues with the employees and may leave a bitter taste in their mouths when it comes time to reopen. This may also cause issues for the Hard Rock in terms of hiring when they are ready to reopen.”

She said it may not be any better for guests.

“For guests, I would imagine that the high-end casino players may have already moved to another property. If not, they will probably be welcome at any other property on the Strip. Since we have seen a softening of the market in the first quarter, aside from Super Bowl week, of course, this may be a positive for the city as a whole as it decreases the inventory for the entire city. Additionally, closing during construction may have some positives in terms of inconvenience to guests and stress on employees.”

Representatives of the Nevada Resort Association had no comment on the closure.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on X. Contact McKenna Ross at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on X.

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