The county commission’s approval of renovation plans for the Sahara site is no guarantee that the SLS Hotel is going to open there anytime soon. Sure, the proposal sounds solid—after all, you usually have all of your ducks in a row before you start scouting locations for your beer garden—but we’ve been down this path with the property before.
When SBE bought the Sahara in 2007, it announced plans to completely renovate the aging-but-still-serviceable resort, turning into the SLS Las Vegas, a high-end boutique hotel (with over a thousand rooms) in a neighborhood that was gentrifying. With Fontainebleau construction underway, Echelon moving forward, and plans for a joint MGM/Kerzner gaming on the former El Rancho Vegas site across the street, plans to upscale the Sahara seemed workable enough.
Then the economy soured and, unlike new owners at the Tropicana, Stratosphere, Riviera, Golden Nugget, and Plaza (among others), SBE didn’t adjust its plans for the Sahara to fit the new realities of the market: It continued to let the property deteriorate while waiting for the economy to turn sufficiently to justify a high-end rebirth rather than a Tropicana or Plaza-style remodeling that could be scaled to a lower price point.
And that’s why, after drifting for years, the Sahara closed its doors while other casinos in similar predicaments in the worst years of the recession are showing signs of life. And while visitation is picking up, persuading a lender to fund another hip, trendy resort in a city with a glut of high-end rooms might be easier said than done.
So while it would be nice to see that location redeveloped, it’s also entirely possible that reports of the Sahara’s rebirth have been greatly exaggerated.