|By Ron Sylvester, Las Vegas
SunMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 28, 2012--Hooters is getting a facelift.
The casino and hotel on Tropicana Avenue has struggled since it opened. It fell into bankruptcy last year. Then it was taken over by its creditor. But the resort recently started its makeover and will begin major construction next month in hopes of finally making a mark in Las Vegas.
Orchestrating the changes is a team that previously worked at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Rick Richards, who served as manager there in 2000, arrived at Hooters this fall. He hired four others from his old team, including Richard Wilk and Eric Arnold, to try to rebuild Hooters. They found an unkempt casino with half-empty beer bottles strewn along slot machines like the day after a college fraternity party.
"Rick called a town hall meeting and told everyone to get ready for 2013," said Arnold, executive director of marketing. "You could see morale immediately pick up. Now they're taking more pride in what they do and the way the place looks. And we started making changes daily, so they could see we mean business."
It's small, and that's why they like it. With 696 hotel rooms and 30,000 square feet of casino space, Arnold said, Hooters is roughly the same size as the Hard Rock a decade ago under Peter Morton.
"We think there's a place in Las Vegas for smaller, intimate casinos where everyone knows you," said Wilk, the director of business development and communications. "We think we know how to make this place cool."
Recently, they walked through Hooters and talked about changes for the future:
Opening up the casino
One of the first steps was literally breaking down walls and opening up the view of the casino.
"We want people to look at this as a casino that has a Hooters restaurant inside of it and not a Hooters with a casino," Arnold said. "We wanted to give better sight lines. Now you can see through to the back of the pool."
Plans are to keep the name out front, trying to build on Hooters' recognizable national brand.
The deal on new uniforms
These old uniforms are out. After years of the dealers dressing similar to the restaurant servers, the dealers on the casino floor will be getting a new look.
"They'll still be sexy, without looking like they're wearing 1980s gym outfits," Arnold said.
Hooters at the 'beach'
Remember this picture -- or, rather, forget it. The new management would like to. It's not going to look the same by spring. A design that hides the condos, adds cabanas and replaces concrete with sand hopes to bring the new Hooters Beach Club in line with other day clubs in Las Vegas. Don't expect a pricey cover charge, though.
"We want to provide a day club and pool that's more affordable," Wilk said.
It's set to break ground Dec. 30, with opening slated for March.
Hooters has not been known for drawing celebrities like the hotspots on the Strip. But lately, athletes, actors and musicians have been stopping by.
"I've had a trusting relationship in Hollywood for 17 years, and I think we can bring people here with great service and less red tape than bigger places on the Strip," Wilk said.
During the past month, Hooters has played host to Olympic gold medal swimmer Cullen Jones; boxer Chuck Zito; professional wrestler and actor Bill Goldberg; and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Tommy DeVito. UFC fighters Frabrico Werdum (pictured), Ian McCall and King Mo are scheduled to be at Hooters signing autographs today.
So long, video games
Joy Stixx is out. The Saloon is in. The video game bar, which opened a little more than a year ago, is giving way to a lounge featuring live music. The renovation is currently under way.
A new show
Hooters recently signed "Purple Reign," the Prince tribute show that had been playing downtown. The casino has given Jason Tenner, the show's star and producer, run of the room, and he's in the process of remaking the space, which also features Kevin LePine's "Hypnosis Unleashed."
In January, Hooters will begin refurbishing its rooms in blocks of 100. Among the plans are contemporary artwork from the artists at Sticks & Stones, the on-site tattoo parlor. The artists' work will set the tone for the look throughout the resort.
One thing is staying the same
The Hooters Girls will stay. There will just be more of them, with about 200 servers at the restaurant and poolside. The new management doesn't want to fix what's not broken.
"The restaurant here is the highest-grossing Hooters in the country," Arnold said. Now, it's a matter of helping the rest of the resort become profitable.
Hooters The Hooter's Restaurant in the Hooters Casino delivers what diners have come to expect from the iconic brand: hot wings served by hot girls in orange hot pants. The restaurant offers a full menu for those who want more than their world-famous wings, and opens daily at 11 a.m. 115 E. Tropicana Ave. Las Vegas, NV 89109 702-739-9000
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