The inaugural Rock in Rio USA music festival, held over two consecutive weekends at the MGM Resorts Festival Grounds on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue this month, must have felt like a glimpse of the future for the north end of the Strip.
“It was packed. It was a fun vibe,” said SLS President and COO Scott Kreeger of the atmosphere at the resort during the festival. “We had tens of thousands of people who walked through the property.” Some got off the Monorail at the stop at the back of SLS - a rebrand and complete renovation of the former Sahara casino - which opened its doors in August 2014. Some grabbed dinner at one of the resort’s many restaurants on the way to the music festival just across the street. Some stopped to play on the casino floor after the final sets of the night from headliners like Metallica and No Doubt.
“We integrate so well with that project,” Kreeger added. “We’re a really nice complement to the overall concert experience.”
But the two projects do more than provide a convenient, complementary night of entertainment. Together, they also point to the early stages of a North Strip renaissance.
In recent years, the action on Las Vegas’ casino corridor has focused on the three-and-a-half-mile stretch from Wynn Las Vegas to Mandalay Bay. North of Desert Inn Road had become home to aging properties like the Riviera and the Sahara and stalled construction projects like the Fontainebleau, whose shiny, unfinished shell still towers over Las Vegas Boulevard.
“The north end of the Strip certainly had its heyday,” says Kreeger. “And then as new development focused elsewhere, it went into decline.”
Kreeger calls the SLS an “early mover” on reviving the neighborhood, but it’s far from the only big draw coming to the area strikingly situated between the center Strip and Downtown Las Vegas. MGM’s massive Festival Grounds are expected to host multiple events throughout the year, and construction has just started on Genting Group’s Resorts World Las Vegas, which will bring 3,000 hotel rooms to the North Strip when its first phase opens across from the Wynn in 2018.
The pool area at the SLS. Photo Credit: Danny King
The nearby Riviera resort recently closed after 60 years to make way for the LVCVA’s expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center. The new Strip-side campus will include meeting and expo space, allowing current conventions to grow and perhaps even drawing new shows to the city.
Jeremy Handel, senior manager of public affairs at the LVCVA, expects that growth to benefit properties up and down Las Vegas Boulevard, but added, “Obviously, when we have a convention in the building it does impact the properties around us.”
The SLS’s Kreeger sees the new convention space as crucial to the North Strip’s reemergence.
“Our location next to that project is incredibly beneficial to us,” he said. “It’s not just about putting more casinos and more hotel rooms in; it’s about having a thoughtful plan that provides an array of commerce.”
Looking five years ahead with the lights and lasers of Rock in Rio still flashing across the street, Kreeger sees the North Strip as an exciting destination in Las Vegas.
“I think that when you look in the crystal ball, five years from now you’re going to see that this area of the Strip is as busy if not more so than the center Strip,” he said.