With eye for innovation, entrepreneur puts name on local lodging

You may not know Stephen Siegel, but if you live in Las Vegas you’ve seen his work.

Siegel is the name behind the Siegel Suites, a chain of apartment complexes with about 3,000 units in Las Vegas and Mesquite.

He’s also the guy who rescued the Gold Spike casino downtown from neglect. He renovated the casino and is now refurbishing the rooms.

More recently, Siegel bought the Mount Charleston Hotel, changed its name to Resort on Mount Charleston and is renovating it with a new gym and other upgrades.

There’s also the Barcelona Hotel and Casino, a property on Craig Road he’s retooling into Siegel Slots and Suites.

In addition to buying and fixing up dilapidated apartment buildings, Siegel is trying to redefine the relationship between casinos and their customers.

He’s tying the Gold Spike to his apartment complexes by offering tenants up to two meals per day for as many as 20 days a month just for paying rent on time.

Even with thousands of apartment units and hundreds of hotel rooms acquired since 2004, Siegel says he attends to his businesses and customers personally and doesn’t plan to change.

“Every customer who has a problem and wants to deal with me, I’ll take care of them personally,” he says. “Even if they are wrong, the customer is still right. It has to be that way.”

Question: Extended or flexible-stay apartments have been criticized as being a last stop before homelessness for many people. What’s your response?

Answer: We give people the flexibility to not get locked into a contract, the flexibility that if they don’t have the best credit to come in and not have to put a deposit down on power bills, the flexibility to not have to rent furniture or buy furniture. We’re just an apartment building with a different concept. If you come to town and don’t want to sign a 12-month lease or a six-month lease, why should you have to?

I think we are good for communities. Blocks that haven’t been touched, we go in and make our properties look so nice the competition next door wants to or has to do it just to compete. You will not see a Siegel Suites that doesn’t have curb appeal. Our managers are all trained. All of our tenants who check in are run through (warrant checks) with the police department. We do what we have to do to keep our properties safe and clean.

Question: How do you decide on whether to buy a property?

Answer: Since I began my business career I have always had a penchant for problem properties and businesses with tremendous upside potential that were undervalued and suffered from a host of problems including deferred maintenance, management issues, undermarket rents and low occupancy, and significant rehabilitation issues.

I consider a number of factors, the two most important being great locations with growth in surrounding areas and upside potential of the asset. My corporate infrastructure and skilled management team enable me to quickly reposition properties I acquire by making necessary renovations and implementing proven policies and procedures to increase cash flow.

Question: In early 2008 you entered the casino market when you bought the Gold Spike downtown. Between the purchase and renovations, you’ll have invested more than $20 million. Given the way the economy has turned, do you regret the purchase?

Answer: Timing is never perfect. If I went to buy Gold Spike today would it be cheaper? Of course. Am I sorry about that price? No. It is a great learning experience. You can’t pay for the experience. It might cost you some money, but school costs you a lot of money. If you are going to go to the University of Southern California it costs you a lot of money. This is schooling.

I still believe the location is unbelievable. If certain things happen downtown that are scheduled to happen in the next five or 10 years that location is irreplaceable. People will forget what you paid for it. We’re the only hotel-casino in downtown Las Vegas that has a Las Vegas Boulevard address. We’re the gateway to Union Park, everyone has to drive past us to get to Union Park.

Question: Speaking of school, you built your portfolio without a formal education beyond ninth grade. If you had it to do over, would you have completed high school?

Answer: School is not for everybody. If you are going for a certain goal to be an attorney or going to business school, I think school is great. I don’t have the patience to sit in school. I’m in school every day. Buying the Gold Spike is going to school. The only difference is when you fail in school you have to start over and you just have to pay for a class. Doing what I’m doing gets very expensive. You have to study hard and make sure you succeed and get it right.

Question: What are you doing to compete in this tough market, whether it is at the apartments, the casinos or the mountain resort?

Answer: I think we have an advantage, this is our business, we understand it. Free Internet, free meals, no one can do that. Tenants tell us that if we didn’t provide free food they wouldn’t be able to pay rent because (they) lost their jobs. People are staying with us because we are giving them food to eat. Every day of the week is a different food item plus breakfast. And you can use as many coupons as you want. You can give them to your friends, you can sell them, we don’t care what you do with them, they’re yours.

Question: Aside from the Gold Spike, what are your favorite casinos in town and why?

Answer: In downtown the best operators are (the El Cortez). Those guys are great, those guys are unbelievable operators. They take care of their customers, they give them value, they know what their niche is and they know what they do. You see it at South Point. It is packed with people and they are good at what they do. Those are the kind of people whose footsteps we follow. I love Silverton. The favorite casinos I go in today are Silverton, and I go into M Resort a lot. You can drink wine downstairs, smoke a cigar by the pool outside.

Question: The Gold Spike was rundown for a long time before you bought it. Where are you finding customers willing to give it a chance?

Answer: We’ve been getting our customers online and repeat customers who have been coming there 30 years. People walk in there and can’t believe what they see and tell their friends. The rooms have been sold out. Granted, the rates are cheap but they’ve been sold out. When the rooms are done, we’re not going to raise the rates very much. We’ll have a $30 room in the week and they’ll have a brand-new remodeled room and a brand-new remodeled casino.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.

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