Stirring up the Strip

With all due respect to artists’ renderings, the recent unveiling of plans for Caesars Entertainment’s Linq have people wondering just what the east side of the Strip will look like when the project opens in June 2013. But behind the aesthetic curiosity is another, more immediate question: How will the massive construction project affect guests and employees? Most of the initial dislocations will be behind the scenes, says Rick Mazer, president of Harrah’s Las Vegas, Flamingo, Imperial Palace, Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon and O’Sheas.

At the project’s southern edge, the Flamingo’s security and human resources offices will be relocated; its loading docks will be moved as well. Employee parking is moving to new surface lots that have yet to be built.

“We’ll have some struggles in the back of the house, but most guests won’t see or feel anything going on,” Mazer says, though eventually the bus pickup and dropoff area will be shifted to the casino’s south side, and the north tour lobby will be remodeled. The Flamingo tennis courts will be another casualty, though guests can still play at Bally’s courts.

To the north, Harrah’s Carnival Court will be tied directly into Linq’s 200,000 square feet of retail and dining between the Flamingo and Imperial Palace via a 20-foot-wide walkway.

When the Linq is complete, the Imperial Palace will be no more. Five years ago, that would have meant an implosion and a rebirth as an ultra-modern, ultra-luxe resort. Now it means remodeling.

Work on the soon-not-to-be-IP will take place in stages. Mazer plans to keep the property open throughout the renovation, with sections of the casino and other public areas taken off-line as construction necessitates.

Caesars hasn’t released any plans or even a new name for the property yet, but it will remain in its current price range, though some work has already been done to upgrade the rooms, and Mazer hopes that with its increased prominence, the property will be better positioned for a more thorough room remodel that will put it firmly at a Flamingo/Harrah’s level post-Linq. And there’s good news for big eaters: Hash House a Go-Go at the IP, Mazer insists, “will stay exactly where it is.”

Mazer has put up a few “pardon our dust” signs in his career. In 1995, he opened the Empress (today Horseshoe) Casino in Hammond, Ind. More recently, he oversaw a $500 million renovation of the Horseshoe Hammond and the conversion of Caesars Indiana to Horseshoe Southern Indiana.

He’s confident, then, that building a new shopping promenade and a 550-foot observation wheel in the middle of his portfolio can be done smoothly. And he plans to keep employees in the loop, communicating with them through town-hall meetings, one-on-one parleys, focus groups and coffee talks in employee dining rooms.

There isn’t a firm construction timeline, since the final drawings have yet to be approved. But work is slated to begin this fall, and Mazer is planning ahead. “Once we’ve got them done,” he says, “we’ll get the timetables, then we can inform our employees exactly what’s going to be moved and when.”

The biggest mover is O’Sheas, the popular Strip-front beer pong-and-gambling joint, which is going to close in sometime mid-2012. Within a year, it will reopen adjacent to the renamed Imperial Palace.

The Strip will look very different once Linq is finished, with guests able to circulate from Harrah’s to the Flamingo without leaving a Caesars property. But Mazer is doing his best to keep his employees well-informed about the changes and his guests as unaffected as possible by what’s going on behind those construction walls.