Las Vegas' New Frontier finds country niche

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LAS VEGAS -- "We've come a long way in a year." That's how New Frontier sales director Pat Thomas characterized the changes that have taken place at the hotel casino property since owner Phil Ruffin purchased what was then known as the Frontier from the Elardi family in February 1998.

New FrontierÆs SignFor one thing, Ruffin ended a labor strike that had plagued the property for six-and-a-half years. Then he renamed the 986-room hotel casino, giving the property its third moniker in 46 years, and began spending millions of dollars to rejuvenate buildings that had been constructed in the 1960s. "Obviously, the property needed some real physical repair to it," Thomas said. "Most of the millions spent so far really don't show -- the changes are not cosmetic in nature."

Such expenditures included reroofing the entire property, she noted. Other work projects at the New Frontier, however, are more evident, such as the addition of a Chinese restaurant, Panda's Express, and Sbarro's, an Italian eatery, as well as upgrades in the casino and coffee shop areas. All 586 standard guest rooms also are being renovated.

When the work is completed in early June, Thomas said, standard rooms will feature two phone lines, data ports, new desks and other furnishings with a cherry wood finish. "The new rooms are absolutely wonderful," she said, noting that the average size is 377 square feet. In comparison, she added, the property's atrium suites measure 600 square feet, while the penthouses range from 1,100 to 1,400 square feet.

Another big change at the New Frontier was the December debut of Gilley's Saloon, Dancehall & Bar-B-Que, which offers lunch and dinner menus, live music five nights a week, monthly boxing matches and sporadic appearances by Mickey Gilley himself. Modeled after the Texas venue that gained fame in the 1980 film "Urban Cowboy" -- yes, there is a mechanical bull that patrons can try to tame -- the 1990s version of Gilley's cost about $2 million to build and has been wildly popular, according to Thomas. "It has been so phenomenally successful that we've started to enlarge [the place]," she said.

Elsewhere on the property, other seeds of change are taking root. The property's former owners did away with what had been "considerable" meeting space and, in fact, wouldn't book group, meeting or convention business, Thomas said.

Now New Frontier officials are expecting to break ground shortly on a new 30,000-square-foot convention center. "Meeting space obviously has become extremely important for midweek business here because Las Vegas is becoming home to all sorts of meetings," she said. "You need a full-service facility now -- you can't just be a leisure property."

The property is also embracing the travel agent community, a relationship that had fallen by the wayside, Thomas said.

In the past, she noted, the property did not pay agents commissions. That has changed, she said, with agents now receiving 10% commission. "We obviously really have been talking to the travel agent community and we are dealing with about 30 tour operators now," she said.

"When I started [here] in March 1998, there had not been a sales office [at the property] in 11 years. In 1998, our travel agent base was zero. Now, we have counted in excess of 2,500 travel agencies that have booked rooms and received commissions."

The property has been operating as a National Hotel by Carlson since last August. At the end of this August, Thomas said, New Frontier officials expect to announce that the property has been flagged by a major hotel chain.

Standard room rates at New Frontier in the off season range from $55 per night to $60 per night; during peak times of the year, prices for a standard room run $65 per night to $75 per night. "We're kind of midpriced, mid-America," Thomas said. "We certainly don't pretend to be nor do we want to be a Bellagio. Our intent is to create a warm, friendly, casual atmosphere.

"There's a whole lot of brass and glass going up in Las Vegas these days, but we want to bring back a country theme. Some of the megaresorts are just so big. We get an awful lot of reunion-type groups here, and when we do win a bid, the common denominator to it is that they feel they can find their friends on the casino floor. Everything is much more convenient." New Frontier, Phone: (800) 634-6966 or (702) 794-8200.

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