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Goodbye, Sahara; Hello, SLS Las Vegas

Dome is Gone, Sign is Gone, Only Remaining Hint of the Old Sahara are Columns
While SBE Spends $750 million Creating a Swanky New Resort

By Ron Sylvester, Las Vegas SunMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

March 14, 2013--First, the sign came down.

Then, the dome that welcomed visitors for almost 60 years was dismantled. By the end of the week, it will be gone.

The shuttered Sahara is slowly disappearing, making way for a new Strip resort, the SLS Las Vegas. "SLS" stands for "style, luxury and service."

Inside, the only remaining hint of the Sahara are ornate columns. The casino has been stripped to its concrete walls. The reception desk has been cleared. The Conga Room, buffet and coffee shops are gone.

"We're in a three-month phase of demolition," said Rob Oseland, president of SLS Las Vegas.

The gutting began three weeks ago. Fixtures and furniture from the Sahara, which closed in 2011, were liquidated two years ago.

The high-end resort project was announced in January 2012 by Los Angeles-based hotelier Sam Nazarian. Nazarian heads SBE Entertainment, a hospitality and entertainment empire with real estate, restaurant, club and hotel holdings nationwide.

SBE expects to spend upwards of $750 million on the resort, which is scheduled to open in 2014.

The company already operates successful hotels in Beverly Hills and Miami's South Beach. The SLS New York is slated to open this year.

"The SLS name is growing among the lifestyles we're trying to reach," Oseland said. "Las Vegas will benefit from that branding."

SBE has gained a reputation for transforming old buildings into swanky hotels. The Las Vegas project will be their largest.

"This is totally different from anything we've done," said Dara Azarbarzin, the resort's project coordinator since 2007, when SBE bought the site. "At other places, we have have 300 or 400 rooms. Here, we have four or five times as many."

The Penta Building Group will oversee construction. The Las Vegas company has worked on dozens of projects on the Strip, including at Caesars Palace, the Monte Carlo and MGM Grand.

French designer Philippe Starck will design the hotel rooms, as he has for other SLS properties. Starck has set aside two model rooms in the hotel towers to test carpet, match colors and try out furniture.

"He's designing it to be comfortable and fun and innovative," Oseland said.

The SLS wants to entertain in all that it does, and it has started to try to market that feeling with its signs. The SLS logo depicts monkeys swinging on a chandelier. Each has its own personality. Some are mischievous, others happy.

"There's a lot of good thinking going into where the marketplace is today and what we need to serve it," Oseland said.

Oseland also put into place several key executives, some of whom worked with him at the Wynn and Encore.

-- Patrick Crocket is chief financial officer. He has worked in Las Vegas for 32 years as a vice president of finance at CityCenter, Crystals and the Bellagio.

-- Chrystal Herndon is vice president of human resources. She previously worked at the Hollywood Casino in Toledo and at the Wynn.

-- Tom MacMahon is vice president of marketing. He previously worked at the Wynn.

-- Matt Erickson is vice president of food and beverage. He comes to the SLS from the LVH.

-- Luke Forzano is executive chef. He worked at the Ritz-Carlton and Wynn before heading the kitchen at the Portofino Bay Hotel in Orlando.

-- Marc Guarino is vice president of information technology. He previously worked at the Las Vegas Hilton, Desert Inn and Wynn, as well as at casino-resorts in Mississippi and Chicago.

Oseland said SBE plans to hire 2,700 more people beginning next year.

"We're bringing people back to Las Vegas and creating jobs," he said.


(c)2013 the Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nev.)

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