With construction continuing and even accelerating during the pandemic, the 777-room Circa Resort & Casino has changed downtown Las Vegas' skyline. The casino, sports book, pool complex and restaurants are set to open Oct. 28, and the first of its rooms and suites will be available for New Year's. Travel Weekly Las Vegas editor Paul Szydelko interviewed CEO Derek Stevens on Sept. 8. The conversation was edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: How is construction coming along?
A: It's pretty amazing to think that we're going to open everything at the end of the year. When the pandemic hit, it threw a wrench into a number of things, scheduling being a key element. We really struggled with some of the vertical transportation, getting everybody up into the tower to work, but we were able to. I was fortunate. I'm around a great general contractor and a great project manager. They got creative and said, "Well, let's get everybody to work on the podium," the first five floors. They were able to work without some of the other restrictions like the noise restrictions and lane-closure issues. So we tried to take the hand dealt to us and turn it into something positive.
Q: As owner of Golden Gate and The D, describe the vibe you envision at Circa.
A: We wanted to take what we learned from both of those properties and then allow Circa to create its own vibe. Circa is obviously far more oriented around signature features and signature moments and signature experiences. We tried to take what we had learned from the past, take it into Circa and add in these new great things. The vibe is going to be high energy and really focused around having a lot of fun.
Q: As an adults-only property, what balance is Circa trying to achieve between locals and tourists, or between young adults and those with more discretionary income?
A: Age is a little bit more in the mind of the individual. We're really looking for people that like to go out, have fun, have a good time, have a couple drinks, have some great food, have a great experience. What we've tried to do from a tourist/local perspective is be very friendly to all of our locals and make it very easy with access and convenience. Fremont Street is the second most-visited tourist destination in the country, so the majority of our business is tourists.
Q: You've directed a lot of resources to the nine-story, 1,200-space Garage Mahal parking structure with a smart-sensor system. Why?
A: This is the first hotel-casino that has had ride-sharing as a component of the design. It's always been an afterthought because ride-sharing technology wasn't around that long ago. So the ability to integrate Garage Mahal into a hotel-casino was an unbelievable opportunity to make things easier and to make things more efficient for locals and tourists.
Q: What elements make it easier for ride-sharing?
A: It's close to the size of a city block and going to be downtown's transportation hub. The first floor is dedicated to transportation. It's a combination of things: ease of access, easy to enter, easy to exit. The overall space allows not just Uber and Lyft but also limos and taxi cabs the ability to come in and allow customers a quick and easy way to get in and out. It's well lit with great sound, great lighting, some art, an incredible chandelier. It gives people an opening experience.
Q: Were there any structural changes to address health concerns amid the pandemic?
A: Here's the real irony. Going back four years ago, I thought focusing on this multitiered pool was going to be a critical element. It's not as if this is a concept that can be easily copied and moved to Chicago or Montana or even to Florida. Las Vegas is probably the best city in the country for sunshine. And I really spent a lot of time on sun studies and making sure we can maximize sun exposure for our tourists. I grew up in Detroit, so I'm used to not seeing the sun from Nov. 1 through Feb. 28 -- everybody runs off somewhere to see some sunshine! Obviously we got the sun, but let's focus on the water. So we came up with a plan to have the cleanest water. We're going to market the fact that we've got the cleanest water. We built filtration systems that I feel comfortable saying there's nothing like this in Las Vegas. There's really nothing like this in the country, how often we're going to be able to turn the water and clean it. All the UV involvement that we're utilizing to clean water is pretty special. In a year like 2020, what we did with our water-filtration system has just become even more important because it will be the cleanest environment. We [also] made a design move a few years ago, which a lot of people are going to start talking about at some point: All the fresh air that comes in from the outside is fed through the floor. All of our floors are raised so all of our vents are in the bottom. It's much more efficient to heat or cool a building [that way]. It provides a different airflow. All the air travels upward to vents that pull the air out, which is also very good. For people that are smokers, your smoke will travel up so it's not really offensive. If you're a nonsmoker you will be in a much cleaner environment. That was something that we implemented a few years ago and in 2020 has now become much more important.
Q: Is there anything you learned at the D and the Golden Gate since they reopened on June 4 that informs decisions about how Circa will operate?
A: We've seen time accelerate. If I had to compare the difference between 2017 and 2018, I could come up with a few minimal items. If I compare what's taken place from June 4 until today, it's changed at a much faster rate. That's also going to change the customer. People will become far more comfortable in their home environment. People are far more comfortable with people that they know versus people that they don't know. If you know somebody, you're probably not afraid of getting a virus from them. If you don't know them, you're afraid. American psychology has shifted a little bit. Eventually, things will come back to more of a norm. People still want to be out with people, people still want to have the camaraderie and the fun that can be achieved in a place like Las Vegas. What we've seen is a much greater focus on customer-safety awareness. We're going to have a greater focus on those elements. People want to feel safe and have a good time.
Q: You named Circa well before any of us could imagine 2020's circumstances. Have you thought about the different levels of meaning going forward?
A: I love Vegas history, and I wanted to have the ability to create something that celebrates great Vegas history. It's not like, "oh, let's celebrate those great years in the '60s or the '70s or the '80s when Steve Wynn built the Mirage or the '90s." More than any one era, more than any one decade, stand out. They all really pushed the envelope and defined Las Vegas as a city that always reinvents itself. It reinvents itself within the community, but it also reinvents itself as things change within the country. We thought Circa was the appropriate name to represent the great history of Las Vegas. And, yeah, it's amazing how it will be opening in 2020, the year of the most significant recession anybody [saw] and opening at the end of a pandemic. Pretty amazing.
Q: What vantage point sets your pulse racing?
A: The world's largest sports book is a pretty dramatic environment. Stadium Swim is something that we're also fired up about. The rooftop Legacy Club [lounge], which won't open until the end of December, is pretty amazing. To the west, you get these unbelievable sunsets. Depending on the clouds, you can have some pretty dramatic colors. But that's not all! You get the opportunity to look straight down the Strip and see Las Vegas light up. And that's really something. If you take an hour and you have a drink in your hand and if you're with some friends and you're looking out over the mountains and you see this great sunset, and then you see Vegas light up, you just feel the energy of what this night's going to provide. That's pretty spectacular.