Is the Riviera Really Worth Remodeling?


You might expect a native to eagerly exclaim “Absolutely!” in response to the $100 million “face-lift” recently proposed for one of the last remaining classic-era Strip resorts. But I’m a Las Vegan, after all, and as such, I understand and respect that one of our city’s greatest strengths is its unwillingness to be anchored by nostalgia.

Having said that, I will allow a heavily qualified “yes” to the Riviera renovation plan, putting up two contrasting neighbors as examples. In 2000, Steve Wynn anticipated the energy of the Strip shifting north (after years of pushing south), and purchased one of the Boulevard’s most storied resorts, the half-century-old Desert Inn, for a paltry $270 million. That was just three years after it had been exceptionally remodeled for $200 million. Within five years, Wynn had demolished the dapper but diminutive DI and opened his eponymous $2.7 billion resort on the site.

Exhibit B: Late last month, north of the Riviera, Sam Nazarian helped launch SLS Las Vegas. SLS is quite a different animal, a $400 million reworking of the 59-year-old Sahara. In contrast to the nearly $3 billion in new construction at the Wynn (and $4 billion at the Cosmopolitan), SLS is all-in for roughly three-quarters of a billion dollars—and that’s in 2013 money. Apples and oranges.

Given this, where does the 59-year-old Riviera, the Strip’s first high-rise, fit on the modern Las Vegas Boulevard map? As one of our few remaining classic casinos, the Riviera could posture itself like Downtown’s El Cortez, as part of the classic Vegas experience. But to get there, a lot of work must be done. Much like flippers do with classic homes that have suffered multiple out-of-date additions over the years, the Riviera’s ill-advised 1980s Splash-inspired facade should be removed and the resort returned to its proper mid-century stance on the Strip. The rooms, renovated in 2007, need modernizing (consider how the Plaza benefited from the demise of the Fontainebleau), and given how important dining has become (see: the Cosmopolitan), the resort needs a restaurant overhaul. (Bye-bye food court; welcome back the Hickory Room!) But the curvy classic pool remains intact, as does—behind that messy facade—the mid-century Miami Modern architecture. In other words, as with the Sahara, there is a lot of potential in the Riviera’s old bones. But by my math, $100 million hardly seems enough to scrub the 1980s off the place.

Then again, one thing about Las Vegans is we do not count other people’s money. And we don’t tell others what to do with that money we haven’t counted. Here’s hoping the Riv can rise again!


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