FAREWELL TO EGYPT

Luxor is working to get Egypt out of the pyramid.

Two years after acquiring the 4,500-room hotel-casino as part of its $7.9 billion purchase of the Mandalay Resort Group, MGM Mirage is giving the Luxor a new look.

The casino operator wants to transform the image of Luxor, which is named for a historic Egyptian city.

"We’re not a British museum with ancient artifacts, we’re a casino-resort," Luxor President and COO Felix Rappaport said. "This was a brilliantly conceived building from the outside. The pyramid always created a sense of wow and wonder, but the inside never delivered on that promise."

MGM Mirage and its joint venture partners in Luxor are investing approximately $300 million to remodel 80 percent of Luxor’s public areas, removing much of the ancient Egyptian theme while adding trendy lounges, restaurants and an ultrahip nightclub. The project is part of the company’s effort to refresh several of the former Mandalay Resort Group resorts.

The renovation price of the Luxor almost equals the $375 million Mandalay predecessor Circus Circus spent to build the original pyramid in 1993. A theater and two additional hotel towers totaling 2,000 rooms were added in 1998 for $675 million. Rappaport said MGM Mirage invested between $25 million and $40 million in infrastructure improvements soon after taking over the resort.

Luxor’s 120,000-square-foot casino floor was redone over the past two years, with the gaming pit reconfigured, carpeting changed, and the property’s 1,600 slot machines replaced with newer games. Next year, the focus will be on transforming Luxor’s atrium level from the family-friendly arcade to more adult-themed amenities, such as additional restaurants, lounges and entertainment venues.

The 2,500 hotel rooms in the Luxor pyramid will be remodeled.

Rappaport, who was president of New York-New York when MGM Mirage took control of Luxor, walked through the property a month before the transfer and saw much room for improvement.

"The reality was that we knew this property had great potential," Rappaport said. "The problem was the place was being run as a dormitory, and not a really well-run dormitory."

MGM Mirage executives wanted Luxor to not just serve as a room adjunct for Mandalay Bay, Excalibur and other neighboring resorts. Instead, the company wanted to put in amenities that would attract outside guests and keep Luxor guests from leaving.

That led to a decision to remove much of the Egyptian theme inside the casino. Many of the older amenities, such as Nefertiti’s Bar and the Isis and Sacred Sea restaurants, have been removed. Egyptian hieroglyphics on the casino’s indoor walls and other symbols are slowly being eliminated.

Focus groups voted against changing the Luxor’s name, however, due to the unique pyramid design. The space above the casino created by the pyramid is 3.4 acres, large enough to fit nine jumbo jet airliners, said Rappaport.

"I’m not sure how they measured that," Rappaport said. "The brilliance of the Egyptian theme is in the pyramid. Inside, however, it seemed a restaurant or bar was given a trite Egyptian name and the job was done. Las Vegas has moved beyond that overall theming in the last five to 10 years."

David Schwartz, director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research, said the move is similar to what MGM Mirage did in remodeling Treasure Island a few years ago.

"It’s a lot less treasure and more island," Schwartz said. "It’s the way the city is going. It’s much less about these cartoonish-themed properties and more about attracting a younger, hip audience."

The initial amenity, the Aurora Lounge near the hotel lobby, opened in the spring to replace Nefertiti’s. Other venues, such as the LAX Nightclub, operated by the Pure Management Group, open Labor Day. The club, an off-shoot of the trendy Los Angeles nightspot of the same name, will have celebrity investors, including singer Christina Aguilera.

Two other bars and lounges will open later in the fall adjacent to LAX: Noir and Flight.

Rappaport said one of the main amenities Luxor lacked was a bar at the center of the casino. The remodeling of the gaming floor allowed for the addition of Liquidity, located at the center of the pyramid, to open in the fall.

Also in the fall, Luxor will open CatHouse, a restaurant and European-style lounge, located in the upstairs area above the casino replacing Isis and Sacred Sea. Celebrity chef Kerry Simon, who operates Simon Kitchen and Bar at the Hard Rock, will serve as executive chef.

The Luxor Steakhouse is scheduled for a remodeling early next year, while the pool will also receive a makeover.

"We want our guests to visit Mandalay Bay and our (MGM Mirage) sister properties," Rappaport said. "But we also want guests from the other properties to visit Luxor as well. We believe what is being added here will go a long way toward changing our image."

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