|By Paul Takahashi, Las Vegas
SunMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 11, 2011--Since the beginning of the Great Recession, Lake Las Vegas has become more mirage than the shimmering resort oasis it was marketed to be in travel brochures.
The once-shining lakeside community filed for bankruptcy protection in summer 2008. Two of its three award-winning golf courses closed by the next summer. Less than a year later, Casino MonteLago and its luxury hotel, the Ritz-Carlton at Lake Las Vegas, shut their doors.
The situation at the 3,600-acre Tuscany-themed master-planned community in Henderson looked dire.
But with the opening of the Ritz-Carlton location as the Ravella at Lake Las Vegas, neighbors and merchants are feeling more hopeful about the future of the community. But some observers are not so sure.
"It's a real positive step for our community," said Jim Coyne of Atalon Group, which manages Lake Las Vegas. "We've been out of bankruptcy for the last six months. This is another sign that Lake Las Vegas has turned a corner."
Valerie Treaster could not agree more. The 15-year resident will be among the hundreds of locals gathering at the Ravella, 1610 Lake Las Vegas Parkway, on Saturday to celebrate its open house. The first guests stay tonight.
"I can't wait for it to open," Treaster said. "It's no secret we have been through some tough times. This is huge for Lake Las Vegas."
But amid the excitement and fanfare of a hotel reopening, some question whether the Ravella can succeed where the Ritz-Carlton didn't.
"New hotels are a lot like new restaurants," said Mehmet Erdem, a professor of hotel management at UNLV. "The initial three months are good, but within two to three years, they've closed shop.
"The news (of a new hotel) will definitely spark interest, but will it translate into profit?"
New Jersey-based Dolce Hotels and Resorts, which took over the lease on the 15-acre, 349-room hotel in September, hopes so.
The hotel "will revitalize Lake Las Vegas," said Stephen Bello, Dolce's corporate director of operations. "This demonstrates we are making a commitment to Lake Las Vegas."
When the Ritz closed in May, local businesses felt the rug get swept from under their feet.
The number of patrons plummeted at The Auld Dubliner in nearby MonteLago Village, causing management to cut back hours and close the Irish pub and restaurant one day a week.
"We took a significant hit," general manager Joseph Serrano said. "We're ecstatic (about the Ravella). This is a great kickoff to 2011.
"Even the hotel workers, that's extra bodies traveling out here every day," he added. "That's business in and of itself."
A similar tone can be heard at the golf course still open in Lake Las Vegas. Although club membership at the SouthShore Golf Club has swelled to 210 people, it's been "slow growth," director of sales Mark Barnett said.
The Ravella "will only help the community," he said. "If we have more people come out to play golf, it will help us out tremendously."
Dolce, a boutique hotelier that manages 27 properties around the world, will take a different approach from the Ritz, officials said.
The new hotel is expected to be a AAA Four Diamond hotel, one level lower than the Ritz's Five Diamond rating. Dolce is hoping its more approachable luxury hotel will attract more locals to Lake Las Vegas.
"The service level is as high as the Ritz, but in a more casual way," Bello said. "We want people to come as they are. Jeans or shorts, black tie or not, you're going to feel comfortable in the Ravella."
But being 17 miles from the Strip and seven miles from downtown Henderson, the Ravella may have a difficult time attracting locals.
"They will have an uphill time marketing," said Stephen Brown, director of the Center for Business and Economics at UNLV. "Unless the area develops into a separate tourist attraction, I don't see any hotel out there doing much to compete with the hotels closer to the Strip. It's just not the same draw for locals.
"The Ravella will be competing with a lot of other places, not just the Bellagio and MGM but with hotels all over the West that offer a vacation experience," he added. "It doesn't seem promising to me."
Officials contend, however, that the Ravella will offer an experience that will make the drive worth it. It will maintain the Ritz-Carlton's Italian theme, even hiring an Italian manager to execute its vision of a Mediterranean oasis in the middle of a desert.
"Lake Las Vegas is about family, friends and creating memories," Bello said. "We just think that there is a whole other part to Las Vegas aside from the Strip."
Brian Jorgensen, a spokesman for the Henderson Chamber of Commerce, agreed.
"When people think of Las Vegas, they think of gambling and the lights, but not the setting of mountains, the desert and the lake," Jorgensen said. "It's really a special place out there."
Resorts near cities such as San Diego and Phoenix have eschewed courting large conventions like Consumer Electronics Show, instead capitalizing on the emerging small meetings market, Erdem said. Religious groups, events like weddings and small business meetings are examples of clientele the Ravella should court, he added.
"Some people don't want to be in the heart of the Strip," he said. "Lake Las Vegas is not a gaming destination, but it's nearby if you want it."
The Ravella will also try to differentiate itself from the two other hotels in Lake Las Vegas: the Loews Hotel and Resort and the Aston MonteLago Village Resort.
"We don't see the Ravella as competition. We have different things to offer," said Loews spokeswoman Jennifer Duffy, noting Loews' family-friendly atmosphere and cuisine. "There is plenty of room in the Lake Las Vegas community."
Maurice Talley, commercial manager of MonteLago Village, echoed Duffy.
"People should have choices," he said. "We are a condo hotel with bedrooms and a kitchen. This is way different from staying in a hotel room."
Looking forward, the three hotels will be able to host larger events, Atalon Group's Coyne said. In September, the community will host its first Ironman World Championship, which is expected to bring 60,000 athletes from around the world to Henderson. Coyne expects a hotel sellout.
MonteLago Village's Talley also added he hopes the Casino MonteLago might reopen by then.
"Lake Las Vegas is out of bankruptcy, and we can get a feel for a new casino operator," he said. "This hotel is a great trend that's getting started."
The jury is still out, however, on whether the new Ravella, and Lake Las Vegas as a whole, can sustain itself, UNLV's Brown said.
"Lake Las Vegas is an experiment that didn't get a chance to be tested," he said. "The timing for Lake Las Vegas was terrible with the collapse of the real estate market, and the recession hitting especially hard in the West.
"I don't think we'll see if it's successful for another five years or so."
To see more of the Las Vegas Sun go to http://www.lasvegassun.com
Copyright (c) 2011, Las Vegas Sun
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com. NYSE:L,