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Sahara Las Vegas naming part of latest effort to revive north Strip

In October 1952, when Las Vegas’ newest hotel was opening in the town’s burgeoning casino corridor, a Review-Journal headline declared: “New Gem Is Added to Glamorous Strip Section As Sahara Opens.”

Decades later, the Sahara has returned to Las Vegas Boulevard — but this time, it’s part of the latest effort to pump life into the sluggish north end of the Strip.

The SLS Las Vegas, which debuted in 2014 as the renovated former Sahara, officially changed its name Thursday to Sahara Las Vegas. If there was any confusion about owner Alex Meruelo’s break with the recent past, work crews Tuesday night demolished the “Sam by Starck” statue out front, tearing down an homage to former SLS owner Sam Nazarian in a spectacle featuring some fireworks and flames.

Meruelo took ownership of the SLS last year. Dusting off the old name, it seems, is an effort to mix Rat Pack-cool nostalgia with a spruced-up property that stumbled under prior owners.

The SLS’ brief history was marked, in part, by layoffs, retail closures and financial losses, all on a part of the Strip that has spent years clawing back from the Great Recession.

After the economy crashed, the north Strip was saddled with mothballed, partially built megaresorts and big vacant lots where other plans never came out of the ground. Foot traffic has been slower than in other parts of tourist-choked Las Vegas Boulevard.

Many locals have been saying for years that a turnaround is coming, given the new project plans that have popped up, but the hoped-for revival has seen mixed results.

* Malaysia’s Genting Group acquired the stalled Echelon in 2013 and announced plans for Resorts World Las Vegas, a multibillion-dollar, Chinese-themed casino. But as time went on, construction made little visible progress, and the expected opening date kept getting pushed back.

Construction eventually gained speed, and Resorts World is slated to open by the end of 2020.

* Australian billionaire James Packer acquired the vacant former New Frontier site, next to Resorts World, in 2014. His group set out to build the 1,100-room Alon Las Vegas, but Packer reportedly had trouble raising project funds.

His company, Crown Resorts, bailed on the project and sold the land to Wynn Resorts. The property remains empty.

* Ex-NBA player Jackie Robinson announced plans in late 2013 to build an arena and a five-star hotel on the former Wet ‘n Wild water park site, next to what’s now Sahara Las Vegas. He later expanded the scope to call for an arena, 44-story and 63-story nongaming hotels, conference space, a bowling alley, a movie theater and more.

He started excavating the site in 2017 but has shown no further progress.

* Developers broke ground on the Fontainebleau in 2007 and planned to open the blue-tinted tower in 2009. But the economy tanked, and the unfinished high-rise went bankrupt in 2009.

Billionaire Carl Icahn bought the project in 2010 for around $150 million and, after leaving it largely untouched, sold it in 2017 for $600 million to developer Steve Witkoff and partners.

The Drew Las Vegas, as the tower is now known, is slated to open in 2022.

* Nazarian, meanwhile, teamed with a San Francisco investment firm to buy the Sahara in 2007. He closed the hotel in 2011 and reopened it three years later as the SLS.

A week or so before the grand opening, Nazarian noted the north Strip was “now building up around us.”

“A lot has changed,” he said at the time. “We’re in a great spot.”

Contact Eli Segall at esegall@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0342. Follow @eli_segall on Twitter.

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