Caesars expansion gets royal treatment
Los Angeles Times
July 20, 2007
By Kimi Yoshino, Times Staff Writer
Celine Dion is leaving Las Vegas, but her legacy may long reign over the Strip - in the form of a $1-billion expansion and renovation of Caesars Palace, including a 665-room tower, a "palatial" new casino entrance and three swimming pools.
It is the largest expansion in the resort's 41-year history and made possible in part by Dion's successful 4 1/2 -year run, which has already fueled the addition of nearly 1,000 rooms, helped attract celebrity chefs and packed 4,100 fans five nights a week into the resort's Coliseum.
Caesars' parent company, gaming giant Harrah's Entertainment Inc., said Thursday that the massive project would help Caesars keep pace with the rest of the Strip, where a torrent of renovations, demolitions and new projects is underway.
"It's a time of great competition, not only in Las Vegas, but in places like Macao," Caesars Palace President Gary Selesner said. "The city and the properties have the desire to stay fresh and to reinvent themselves. Everyone talks about Macao being a new Las Vegas. Las Vegas has always risen to every challenge."
These days, the Strip is looking like an unwieldy construction zone, with towering cranes and construction crews on nearly every block.
Existing resorts, such as the Wynn and the Venetian, are building new towers. The Luxor hotel-casino announced last week that it would give its Egyptian-themed pyramid a $300-million makeover. Boyd Gaming broke ground last month on the $4.8-billion Echelon project, which will include five hotels and more than 30 restaurants and nightclubs.
MGM Mirage is building the $7.4-billion CityCenter a mixed-use development next to the Bellagio that includes six towers - a casino-resort, condos and boutique hotels.
The major projects also boast huge theaters, such as the $100-million, 4,100-seat Coliseum built for Dion in 2003. When she departs Ceasars at the end of the year, Bette Midler will take her place for a 200-show run.
"Celine Dion put Ceasars Palace on the map in an even bigger way," Selesner said. "She allowed us, in part, to attract some of the celebrity chefs…. On a base level, she puts 4,000 people a day in the Coliseum, who before the show and after the show, are eating in our restaurants, staying at our hotel, visiting the nightclub and gambling at the casino."
Tickets for Dion's shows average $150. But her effect extends beyond those sales. Dion helped boost restaurant profits alone by the "tens of millions," Selesner estimated. And in 2006, a year after opening the 949-room Augustus Tower, the casino-resort's operating income rose 63%.
"There was some initial doubt about whether this Celine show was going to work and whether it was a good idea," said Howard Lefkowitz, president of Vegas.com. "Without a question, all of those initial doubts have been absolutely shot down. It has been terrific for Ceasars; it's been great for Las Vegas."
Dion's success ushered in a new era of Vegas headliners: Elton John, Barry Manilow, Toni Braxton and Prince. "It has brought back a lot of the glamour of the headliners of the old days with Frank [Sinatra] and Sammy [Davis Jr.] and Dean [Martin] and all those guys," Lefkowitz said. "It's kind of a new version of the Rat Pack…. I think those glamour days are back."
The Strip is moving away from the family-friendly focus of the 1990s. Cheap buffets have given way to celebrity chefs; nickel slots to high-stakes poker rooms. Luxury rooms are more common than budget hotels, though there are still mid-week deals to be found.
The oldest casinos are being shut down and demolished to make room for new projects. On Monday, the New Frontier, one of the Strip's most affordable hotels, closed after 65 years.
In its place, Elad Group, owner of the Plaza hotel in New York, plans to build a $5-billion project to open in 2011. It will include a luxury hotel, homes, stores and a casino.
The Caesars Palace renovation will also up the ante on luxury. It plans the 665-room Octavius Tower, slated for completion in early 2009. It will include three pool villa suites overlooking three new swimming pools, an outdoor "whirlpool spa retreat" and a garden wedding venue.
The existing Forum Tower will be remodeled. Bathtubs will be removed to make room for more sleep and lounge space and large rain showers big enough for two. All rooms will have flat-panel televisions, iPod docks and doorbells. Some refurbished floors will reopen this year. The rest will be finished by January.