You Make Me Feel Brand New

November 4, 2010

You make me feel brand new In an implosion-crazed town, meet the people polishing historic gems in our midst

Build it up. Blow it up. Build it better. That might have been the de facto motto of can’t-stop won’t-stop Las Vegas — until the housing bubble popped and brought with it the end of an era.

But even the global economic crisis has a silver lining. In Southern Nevada, that’s arguably translated into a willingness to revisit the past with something more than a wrecking ball. Some business and individuals are now considering history an asset instead of a liability, something to embrace rather than erase. Here are a handful of the folks and firms who are thriving in the past.

The Siegel Group: Boutique and improved
After dropping out of junior high, Siegel Group founder Steven Siegel earned money by buying old cars, restoring them and selling them for a profit. He later moved on to buying down-and-out apartment buildings and fixing them up, eventually creating Siegel Suites extended-stay hotels. And over the past few years, he’s been rescuing classic Las Vegas properties.

The company bought downtown’s well-past-its-prime 112-room Gold Spike casino in 2008. Viewing the fleabag 50-room motor lodge next door as a blight on the neighborhood, the Siegel Group bought that as well and rechristened it Oasis at Gold Spike. Today, both offer completely renovated modern rooms. The $3-a-hand “sexy blackjack” tables, open only at night, draw both local residents and tourists. And the casual, affordable Golden Grill has become a popular downtown lunch spot for government workers.

With basic rooms costing between $35 and $65, the prices aren’t drastically less than some options on The Strip. But Siegel Group’s Director of Business Affairs Michael Crandall feels they still hold a unique appeal for budget-conscious tourists.

“You can absolutely get a room at The Hard Rock or the Luxor or any of these places that are offering $39 or $49 room nights,” he says. “But after you stay there, it’s $39 a person for breakfast or lunch. Or it’s a minimum on Friday or Saturday of $25 at a blackjack table. So you can’t really afford to stay on the Strip. The amenities cost more than the room.”

The Gold Spike was just the beginning for The Siegel Group. Later in 2008, it bought The Mount Charleston Hotel, and commenced giving the mountain resort a full makeover. And when one-time hipster hangout The Artisan Hotel was closed down following repeated health code violations, the company swooped in and bought that as well. Its once-filthy hotel rooms have been cleaned. The bar has reopened. And the restaurant has been approved to once again open for business. Crandall believes all of those properties were “hidden gems” just waiting to be rediscovered.

But the purchase that excited him the most is the dilapidated 150-room St. Tropez, directly across Harmon Avenue from The Hard Rock. Others viewing the abandoned resort may have only seen the green water in the pool and the trashed rooms. But Steve Siegel and his team envisioned hammocks hanging from trees, guests doing yoga poolside, suites by famed designer Marc Tracy and private candlelight dinners on guests’ balconies. So they brought in former Hard Rock Casino president Yale Rowe to create their most ambitious project yet, Rumor, which Crandall views as “The Roosevelt in Hollywood meets The Viceroy in Palms Springs.”

The four boutique hotels clearly serve very different markets. But Crandall says one philosophy underlies them all. “The most important thing is you know your customer,” he says. “If you know your customer, you can cater your business around your customer.” — Al Mancini