The Riviera Replaced by a Convention Center?

RivieraNewJust late last summer, the Riviera, preparing to celebrate its 60th anniversary this year on April 20, announced plans for a long-overdue $100 million remodel. Though a legendary posh hangout during the Rat Pack era, the Riv’s last heyday would have been the early 1990s, when Jeff Kutash’s Splash ruled the Strip and An Evening at La Cage exemplified our city’s history of female impersonators.

Sadly, the joint hasn’t aged well (in fact, it’s original Miami modern architecture by Roy France & Son is hardly detectable). The passing decades are a small piece of the problem; budgeting has proven a bigger one. Unlike, say, Caesars Palace, simply not enough cash has been spent to keep the Riviera updated, and it suffers from layers of lazy remodels that don’t translate well in today’s Las Vegas.

So, while keeping the Riviera viable might be a wonderful dream, the paltry budget is hardly enough to realize it. According to recent reports, it seems others agree. The Las Vegas Advisor, a respected insider’s publication since 1983, recently reported that the Riv was headed toward a sale to (wait for it!) the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority for (wait for it!) demolition and expansion of the Convention Center.

At first glance, this may seem ridiculous. Why would prime Strip-front gambling real estate be repurposed for convention space? Then you stop and take note of the post-Great Recession fortunes of the north Strip, where the Riv resides: It’s been nearly eight years since the Stardust crumbled to the ground across the street; the nearby former Wet ’n’ Wild site remains undeveloped; the long-vacant El Rancho property at Sahara Avenue is being converted to a concert festival venue for Rock in Rio; SLS is still waiting to hit its stride (to put it kindly); and the Fontainebleau … well, perhaps this isn’t so ridiculous after all.

According to the LVCVA, the 2012 economic output of our convention business was estimated at $6.7 billion. For a prime example of the financial power of conventions, see Sheldon Adelson, who parlayed a fortune made in (wait for it!) the convention business into a fortune made in the gambling business. Further, recent Strip development has been strongly focused on retail and entertainment; see the Linq, Treasure Island’s retail expansion, the Grand Bazaar Shops at Bally’s and drug stores on nearly every corner.

In short, the business of Las Vegas has always been the business of people; we want to capture their attention and keep them spending any way we can—yes, even if it means another Strip icon bites the dust.