|By Heather Newman, Detroit Free
PressMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jun. 12, 2008 - The economy is terrible. Gas is expensive. Border guards are sometimes cranky. The U.S.-Canadian exchange rate -- now almost at par -- isn't as enticing as it was when the loonie was worth 65 cents, U.S.
But the newly renamed Caesars Windsor is hoping that a beautiful new hotel, 5,000-seat arena and convention-ballroom space will be enough to entice you to make the trip across the river.
The new facilities, connected to the existing casino and dominating the Windsor skyline, will officially open June 19 with a black-tie, invitation-only private concert by Billy Joel in the new Colosseum, a 5,000-seat arena that may become one of the Detroit area's favorite concert venues.
The Colosseum is on the site of Windsor's old farmers market, which has moved. It's definitely the crown jewel in the finished Caesars, which was renovated from top to bottom. Its 5,000 seats are set up in a clever arrangement that makes them appear permanent.
For conventions that need more than the 100,000 square feet of meeting and ballroom space the expansion offers, the seats can be removed from the floor area, and 2,700 of them retract -- bleacher-style -- to open up a wide swath of floor. Hotel officials say it's the largest retractable seat system in North America. You won't even know it's there unless you see it in action.
The arena itself is a comfortable arrangement of floor and stadium-style seating. Two gigantic high-definition screens, each 16-by-24 feet, flank the stage area, which has more than 500 lights. Even in the back row in the balcony, you're just 240 feet from the stage, and with the screens, it feels much closer.
Its size puts the Colosseum in the same league as the Fox Theatre, Freedom Hill or Royal Oak Music Theatre in the Detroit area. "Deal or No Deal" star Howie Mandel is taping a new television project there at the end of July. (For acts you can see, check out the list of bookings that accompanies this story.)
Most of the hotel rooms opening in the new tower look like those at the existing tower across the street: calm, pleasant designs featuring muted beiges and golds, Greek designs and dark woods. As you rise toward the top of the new 27-story Augustus Tower, however, the rooms become larger, the layouts more palatial and the views of the Detroit skyline, Belle Isle and Ambassador Bridge more stunning.
In some penthouse suites, you have a three-sided view of some of the best that the Detroit area has to offer in terms of scenery. All furniture and accessories are custom-made for the casino hotel, and all rooms have safes and flat-screen TVs.
"All of the rooms have a great view," said Joseph Moore, director of resort operations. "You get to see how vast and how flat Windsor is."
Caesars lacks the over-the-top features of the new MGM Grand tower or the pizzazz of the new MotorCity designs. But the rooms are elegant, the thread count of the linens tops 400 and the prices can't be beat among the permanent casino complexes. At Detroit's permanent casinos, prices start in the mid-$250s, but you can book a nice room at Caesars Windsor for $150 a night, with the top suites going for about $3,200.
As you climb the price scale, the finishes reflect the cost increase, with stone floors, jetted tubs and televisions built into the mirrors of the bathrooms.
The 12,000-square-foot lobby of the new hotel is breathtaking, with giant columns painstakingly inlaid with tiny marble tiles in a grid pattern meeting the broad swaths of different types of marble slabs in the floor. A huge reproduction of a statue depicting the Three Graces (daughters of Zeus representing charm, grace and beauty) dominates the lobby under a dome, a fountain trickling at the Grecian figures' feet.
Brilliant gold acrylic tiles back the marble-topped reservations desk, setting off giant murals of classic Greek figures.
The only new dining area to open June 19 is an all-day restaurant off that lobby called the Augustus Cafe. It's much more human-scale than the lobby itself and will serve breakfast, sandwiches and dinner to hotel guests and casino patrons who make the trip across the skywalk.
The complex will employ 400 additional people to work in the new areas. The new hotel rooms will bring the total for the complex to 758, one of the largest in Windsor.
As of a week ago, employees were rushing to fill the space, which is standard procedure for a construction project of this size.
"We're unpacking about six million pieces of equipment in the kitchen," said executive chef Patrick McClary. The new cooking facilities will serve the convention areas. "A week and a half ago, we were still ordering major amounts of wares."
Contact HEATHER NEWMAN at 313-223-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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