Jeff Simpson on Harrah's Plan to Transform the Center Strip
Harrah's Entertainment Chairman and Chief Executive Gary Loveman says he is getting pretty excited about his company's planned transformation of the center Strip. After meeting Loveman last week in his offices at Caesars Palace, it is clear the professorial executive believes the project will stand apart from some of the other big developments that are planned or being built on the Strip. He said he expects to reveal details of the center Strip project by the end of the summer, but the company definitely isn't thinking small. Among Harrah's assets in the area: Caesars and the Rio on the west side of the Strip; Harrah's Las Vegas, Imperial Palace, Flamingo, Bally's and Paris Las Vegas on the east side, along with the site of the demolished Bourbon Street and a lot of additional land behind those properties.
Loveman isn't saying what and where the company plans to build, but some of his comments offer clues about the scope and nature of his plans.
Key to the development: Creating a sense of place for the entire center Strip area that Harrah's controls, using Disneyland as an example.
"When you're visiting Disneyland, you know you're not outside anymore; that you're in Disneyland," Loveman said, saying that the properties that now look separate and distinct from the outside would be tied together in a sensible way to communicate to visitors that the individual resorts are part of a greater whole.
One way will be with signs, another will be to use Harrah's industry-leading Total Rewards card system and modern technology - think BlackBerries and cell phones - to stay in close touch with guests during their visits.
Loveman envisions using the Total Rewards loyalty card system and electronic communications to more closely interact with customers, perhaps letting Paris guests know that tickets are available to see Celine Dion at Caesars .
Loveman didn't say what resorts or property expansions he would build, but said the Strip frontage near Flamingo Road in front of Caesars and Bally's is underutilized.
He also acknowledged the company's Horseshoe brand is strong, and available.
Which properties will remain? Caesars, Harrah's, Paris and the Flamingo will; Imperial Palace won't, and Bally's, with one of its towers less than satisfactory, is a question mark.
What about Boyd Gaming Corp.'s Barbary Coast, smack-dab in the middle of Harrah's canvas?
Loveman says he knows how central its location is, and that he wants it. And that Boyd knows he wants it. But he declined to say whether he thought a purchase of the property, some kind of an asset trade, or even an outright purchase of Boyd would be how the property changes hands - if it does.
Loveman credited builder and Rio developer Tony Marnell with one of the most important things he's been told about operating Las Vegas resorts.
"You have to feed your customers a steady supply of new stuff," he said.
Loveman learned Marnell's lesson - he's getting ready to feed Harrah's customers a whole lot of new stuff.
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Loveman was undoubtedly disappointed - and I was surprised - by Singapore's announcement Friday that Venetian owner Las Vegas Sands was its pick to develop a $3.2 billion casino and convention resort at Marina Bay.
Industry insiders both here and across the Pacific told me they thought Sands would be too tied up with its major Macau development.
I had thought MGM Mirage or Harrah's would get the nod. I was wrong, but extend congratulations to Sands and its owner, Sheldon Adelson, whose message about the power of the convention business is persuading doubters around the world.
Loveman told me that waiting for the Singapore announcement made him more anxious than he has been since he had to wait for his admission letter to graduate school.
The earlier wait had a happier ending, but perhaps Loveman's patience will be rewarded when Singapore awards its second casino license for Sentosa island later this year, an opportunity Harrah's also plans to pursue.