|By Arnold M. Knightly, Las Vegas
Review-JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 25--Now, it's up to the people.
Nearly 1,100 workers at the new $250 million Eastside Cannery have spent the past couple weeks getting acclimated to the nuances of their new jobs in anticipation of Thursday's opening in time for the Labor Day crowds.
Despite the lagging economy, the hotel-casino's management and workers are expecting robust business from the 8 p.m. Thursday opening all the way through the holiday weekend.
Tom Willer, vice president of marketing for Cannery Casino Resorts, which owns the property, said the Labor Day weekend opening could help the hotel-casino lure residents who are staying home instead of traveling because of the economy.
The opening is particularly welcome to about 250 workers who stayed on with the company after the Nevada Palace closed Feb. 29.
Workers from the locals mainstay since 1977 say the new property retains the family feel.
"I feel it, I really do," said Linda Galloway, a hostess and cashier at Nevada Palace for four years. "The atmosphere is the same. I haven't had any problems with anything. We've just got a bigger place."
The $250 million transformation stands out in an era when locals casinos can cost close to $1 billion to build.
Company co-owner and casino industry veteran Bill Paulos attributes the friendly price to careful budgeting and an attention to detail when planning. He is confident customers will be happy with the new property.
"We're opening it on the day we said we'd open it two years ago," Paulos said. "And we built it for the budget we said we'd build it for. When you walk through this project, your only comment will be, 'Wow, how did they do that?' "
Zena Cacal, who worked at Nevada Palace for 17 years, said the biggest change, hopefully, will be having to deal with more customers. However, she also expects to see a lot of the same faces that were regulars at the old place.
"When I would see them at other casinos (during the past few months) they would say they couldn't wait until we opened this place," Cacal said.
The old Nevada Palace crew is joined by approximately 250 transfers from either the Cannery in North Las Vegas or the Rampart Casino at the JW Marriott at Summerlin.
The remaining 600 workers are new hires. The company also hired workers to replace the 250 jobs left by transfers, adding 850 new jobs to a Las Vegas market experiencing a 6.8 percent unemployment rate.
Charles Wortman, facilities director for the new property, said 1,100 workers is the permanent staffing level for the hotel-casino, and workers won't be laid off a few months after opening, a common practice with new openings.
"The employees may work longer hours or six days a week in the beginning," Wortman said. "But a couple months from now, everyone will still have a job."
The Eastside Cannery is the first major hotel-casino to open on the Boulder Strip, the third largest gaming sector by revenue in Nevada, since Station Casinos opened Boulder Station 14 years ago.
However, the hotel-casino is opening while, much like gaming in general, Boulder Highway casino customers are feeling the effects of high gasoline prices, the mortgage crisis and an uncertain job market.
Paulos said he learned long ago that opening a property in a down market is not necessarily a bad thing.
"I learned this from Bill Bennett, who was my mentor at Circus Circus," he said. "If you build during the down time, you're going to be ready for the strong time. Everything is cyclical."
Paulos said he has seen every type of hurdle while opening 14 hotel-casinos -- including New York-New York, the Luxor, the Excalibur and the Cannery in North Las Vegas -- since entering the industry in the 1970s.
Eastside Cannery joins Sam's Town, Arizona Charlie's Boulder and a series of smaller operators along a three-mile stretch of Boulder Highway south of U.S. Highway 95 that was envisioned, at one point, as being a locals Strip.
Gaming revenues along the Boulder Strip, which includes Sunset Station in Henderson, decreased 2.44 percent to $903.2 million between July 2007 and June 30.
More recently, revenues dropped 8.24 percent to $214.8 million for the three months ended June 30.
Nevertheless, Paulos remains bullish on the area's gaming future.
"We believe we can strengthen the market on Boulder Highway just by the product," Paulos said. "Boulder Highway is a giant market. It's a combination tourist-locals market. People don't really understand how many new rooftops are on this side of town."
This is the second property Paulos and business partner William Wortman have brought to an area they believe to be underserved by new developments.
The first Cannery casino opened in early 2003 on the corner of Craig and Losee roads. It added a movie theater and additional rooms in 2006. The 201-room property was the first new hotel-casino to open in North Las Vegas since Texas Station in 1995.
Paulos admitted the opening of the second Cannery brings mixed emotions.
The company is in the regulatory process of being sold for $1.8 billion to Crown Ltd., the Melbourne, Australia, gaming company controlled by billionaire James Packer.
"Although it's bitter in the fact that we'll no longer be day-to-day with all these folks, it's sweet knowing that we were able to have a great run, work with some outstanding folks and be able to leave them in a great situation," Paulos said.
Paulos, who worked for Crown as chief operating officer in 1994, said the new owners didn't have any direct input on the development of the Eastside Cannery.
However, they were happy with the plans and "they're very happy with the end product."
Although the sale should close by early next year, Paulos and William Wortman plan to stay on through the opening of a $155 million racino at the Meadows Racetrack outside Pittsburgh.
307-room, 16 story hotel tower
2,187 slot machines
26 table games
450-seat bingo hall
20,000-square-foot ballroom and meeting space
pool, spa, sports book
Who Built It
M.J. Dean Construction, general contractor
Klai Juba Architects
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