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The Sahara Stays

For any of you who were thinking, or hoping — as I was — that the new owners of the Sahara would tear the joint down — fuggedaboutit. The new owners, Los Angeles-based SBE Entertainment and Stockbridge Real Estate Funds of San Francisco have poured more than $2 million into the 55-year-old resort over the past few months to refurbish and make cosmetic changes.

Here’s what you’ll notice, if you can take your eyes away from the slot machines for a few minutes: The outdoor landscaping has been trimmed and cleaned up. New carpeting and wall paper have freshened the hotel lobby. Sofas and chairs give customers comfortable seating in the lobby and areas near the property’s two main entrances. Hotel staff sport new uniforms and the property’s restaurants, including the House of Lords gourmet room, have new menus. Even the towels at the Sahara’s swimming pool are bigger and plusher.

Arash Azarbarzin, president of the SBE Hotel Group who also holds the dual role as president of the Sahara, said, "We wanted to give some value back to our customers." The company is also looking at where it wants to go, he said. "We have to understand who we are and who we are not. We are a historic property. Every version of our master plan includes keeping the hotel intact. There are some areas we might take down and remodel, but you’re not going to see a big implosion here." Too bad. It needs it. And unlike now, in a few years, it’s going to have some very ritzy neighbors.

The $2.8 billion Fontainebleau, with nearly 4,000 hotel rooms, is under construction just down the block. Next to the Sahara, a $5-billion, 5,000-unit mixed-use project is planned, although the height of the eventual Crown Las Vegas hotel tower is still being determined. Across the Strip, MGM Mirage bought a 26-acre parcel and is planning a large hotel-casino development in partnership with Kerzner Holdings International, developers of the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort in the Bahamas.

One thing that came up that I wasn’t pleased with was the suggestion that with the coming changes to the Sahara, the name may not remain. This has been my biggest beef with the changes that have happened in our town when it comes to replacing the landmark casinos. Not one of the original hotel-casinos that were imploded and rebuilt, retained the names that had become synonymous with Las Vegas. The Aladdin did for a while, but now that’s become Planet Hollywood. Ah well, time marches on and I guess I just get grumpier as the years go by.

What a lot of newcomers to our town might not realize is that the Sahara was home for many years to the biggest headliners in the country, and in fact, their lounge was a starting point for entertainers like Don Rickles.

LANCE FOR LOCALS

Lance Burton will once again offer locals a real deal with the 4th Locals Appreciation Weeks for his show at the Monte Carlo. From November 27 thru December 8, it will cost you only $35 per ticket and that includes all taxes. That’s less than half the regular price of $72.55, so we’re talking big savings here.

Show times for these two weeks are 7 p.m. Tuesday thru Saturday with added 10 p.m. shows on Tuesday and Saturday during the first week and 7 p.m. show times Tuesday, December 4 thru Saturday, December 8. After December 8, Burton takes a break from December 9 thru the 25th and reopens at regular prices on Wednesday, December 26th for 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. There will be a 7 p.m. show thru Sunday, December 30 and an added 10 p.m. show on Saturday, December 29. The show will be dark on New Year’s Eve. Anyone with a Nevada I.D. can reserve tickets by calling (702) 730-7160 or visiting the Lance Burton Theatre Box-office or Tickets & Tours sales desk in the Monte Carlo’s lobby.

SMITH CENTER DEVELOPMENT

The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, a public/private partnership destined to become the centerpiece to the development of 61 acres of prime downtown land, has received a $100 million "challenge" grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation to provide funding for a second hall and education center once fundraising is completed for the main 2,050 seat performance hall. Groundbreaking for the Smith Center is planned for late in 2008 with a projected opening in 2011.

This means that construction of the entire complex can occur simultaneously, rather than in two phases as originally planned. As originally conceived, the Smith Center would have been built in two phases. Phase 1 features a 2,050 seat performance hall which will be the new home of the Las Vegas Philharmonic and touring Broadway shows, among others. Phase II of the complex includes a 650-seat proscenium theater, which will be home of the Nevada Ballet Theatre as well as a cabaret theater, studio theater and the education and community outreach complex.

In order for the grant to be completed, Smith Center officials must raise an additional $75 million by next summer. The Smith Center Challenge Grant is the single largest philanthropic gift in state history, surpassing the foundation’s initial grant to the Smith Center of $50 million in 2005, which created an operating endowment for the center.

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation is a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by the late media entrepreneur (founder of the Las Vegas Review-Journal) for whom it is named. Headquartered in Las Vegas, it is one of the largest private foundations in the United States.

Good luck and I’ll see you on the Strip. And don’t forget to check out eNeon each Wednesday by subscribing (free of charge) to the Review-Journal’s weekly newsletter. If you have a question or a Las Vegas experience you would like to share with my readers, please e-mail me at lennylv@netzero.net. Please include your full name and the city or town where you live.

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