Updated June 27, 2019 - 11:04 pm
The Sahara is back.
The storied 1,720-room hotel that has hosted the Rat Pack, the Jerry Lewis Telethon, and the Beatles came full circle Thu
The SLS, now being redubbed The Sahara hotel-casino, just put up an amazing display of lights in the sky…nope, not fireworks. pic.twitter.com/uCkC14mC6i
— Heidi Fang (@HeidiFang) June 28, 2019
Speaking to about 700 invited guests that included dignitaries, celebrities and hotel employees and guests, Meruelo’s announcement was punctuated with a drone light show and fireworks.
“The Sahara played an important role in the evolution of the destination,” Meruelo told the crowd. “And, we are now responsible for shaping a new narrative. We are writing the next chapter in the city’s evolution, for the love of Vegas.”
Meruelo took control of SLS in April 2018 for an undisclosed price from a San Francisco-based investment fund, Stockbridge Capital Group.
On a roll. pic.twitter.com/GjB3272N2o
— Rick Velotta (@RickVelotta) June 28, 2019
The businessman cut costs, including ending the property’s relationship with W Hotels and Starwood Hotels, helping lift the property into the black. But he also invested $100 million in renovations, a process still underway and expected to continue into 2020.
The W, which operated one of the property’s three towers, had its own management, accounting and sales team, General Manager Paul Hobson told the Review-Journal in January.
The SLS brand is owned by Sam Nazarian’s company, SBE, as is Katsuya and The Bazaar by Jose Andres. Meruelo used the working name Grand Sahara — a reference to property’s original name and mirroring his Grand Sierra Resort in Reno — when applying for construction permits last year.
The Sahara, which featured a Moroccan onion-dome minaret over its porte-cochere, was known as a hangout for the Rat Pack of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.
Hobson introduced Meruelo at Thursday’s name unveiling.
“The team here knows that we’re part of something special,” Hobson said. “Every member of the team, from leadership to the front line, is excited to welcome Sahara back to Las Vegas. And, we are excited for our guests to join us on this journey, experience the many changes taking place on property and offer them unparalleled service. Our design team has labored over every detail, bringing a style and sophistication that we believe our guests will immediately appreciate.”
Meruelo said his management team is committed to delivering an intimate and memorable visit for guests.
“We want people who stay with us to say, ‘My God, what an experience!’ because experience leads to memories. And, that’s what we want to create, memories and experiences you won’t forget.
“To do that, we had to find the right resort,” he said. “And, this is the right resort. We can make a big impact here at this iconic location. Our property is just the right size to deliver the bold, yet personalized, experiences that made visitors first fall in love with Las Vegas.”
Meruelo made headlines earlier this month on the nation’s sports pages when the National Hockey League formally announced that it had approved him as the new owner of the Arizona Coyotes, the NHL team in Phoenix. Terms of that deal weren’t announced, but the move signaled the league’s increasing comfort level with the gaming industry.
67 years of Sahara
1952: Milton Prell opens the Hotel Sahara with 240 rooms. The $5.5 million, Moroccan-themed resort is decorated with life-size camels. Ray Bolger, the scarecrow from “The Wizard of Oz,” headlines in the Congo Room until 1957.
1959: A 14-story tower is built, adding 200 rooms. A convention hall on the north side of the Sahara is added as well as a 127-foot sign. Comedian Don Rickles makes the first of many appearances in the Casbar lounge. George Burns also appears in the Casbar.
1961: Del Webb acquires the Sahara through a stock transaction involving 1.5 million shares in the Del Webb Corp. valued at about $12 million. The Sahara adds a $5 million, 24-story skyscraper with 400 rooms, bringing its total to more than 800. A 44,000-square-foot convention facility is built at a cost of $3.5 million.
1964: Stan Irwin, the Sahara entertainment director, brings The Beatles to Las Vegas. They perform at the Las Vegas Convention Center and stay at the hotel. Johnny Carson headlines in the Congo Room.
1969: Duke Ellington performs in the Casbar lounge.
1972: The Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon broadcasts from the Sahara. Charo headlines in the Congo Room.
1976: During the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon, Frank Sinatra makes a surprise appearance to reunite Lewis with his former partner, Dean Martin.
1982: Paul Lowden buys the Sahara for $50 million.
1982 and 1983: Tina Turner performs in the Congo Room.
1988: A 26-story tower is added, bringing the room total to 1,500. Lowden expands the casino area and opens a new race and sports book.
1995: Bill Bennett buys the Sahara for $193 million, including 39 acres west of the Strip. Bennett begins a $100 million renovation, including bars, restaurants, rooms and swimming pools.
2000: Renovations are completed. There are 1,720 hotel rooms. The casino is 50,000 square feet larger and a porte-cochere looks south toward the Wet ‘n Wild attraction. The NASCAR Cafe opens, featuring the Speed: The Ride roller coaster. The David Cassidy and Don Reo show, “The Rat Pack is Back,” opens in the Congo Room. It closes two years later.
2002: The Sahara turns 50. Charo opens her show “Bravo” in the Congo Room. Magician Steve Wyrick headlines in the Sahara Theater.
2007: SBE Entertainment and Stockbridge Real Estate buy the Sahara for between $300 million and $400 million.
2009: Illusionist Rick Thomas headlines for two years.
2011: The Sahara closes.
2013: Sam Nazarian invests $415 million in the property and opens it as SLS Las Vegas. Nazarian says SLS stands for “style, luxury, service.”
2014: Hilton Worldwide adds SLS Las Vegas to its specialty Curio brand.
2015: Nazarian sells his interest to Stockbridge Real Estate Group. Starwood Hotels & Resorts agrees to add SLS Las Vegas to its Tribute Portfolio. The 289-room Lux Tower is targeted for renovation.
2016: The Lux tower is rebranded as W Las Vegas.
2018: The Meruelo Group agrees to buy SLS Las Vegas, announcing plans for $100 million in renovations and ending the relationship with Starwood and ending the W Las Vegas brand.
2019: The renovation is done under the working name of “Grand Sahara Resort,” mirroring Meruelo’s Reno property, the Grand Sierra Resort, leading to speculation that the Sahara name would be revived.
June 27, 2019: Meruelo officially announces the hotel would be renamed Sahara Las Vegas.