Sarah Feldberg
Sarah Feldberg

By the third quarter of 2020, Las Vegas will be home to a new Virgin Hotel on the corner of Paradise Road and Harmon Avenue, where the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino has stood for 24 years.

According to Virgin, that transformation will take about eight months to complete, with the resort closing for the final four months of construction before making its grand debut. 

"Over the last few months we've been working on the transformation project and have decided we don't want a piecemeal approach," said Virgin Hotels CEO Raul Leal. "We have one opportunity to enter the market, and we want to ensure minimum disruption to the hotel visitors while doing this 100% correctly."

That strategy might sound simple, but it's actually fairly rare in Las Vegas. When the Strip's citadel-size resorts undergo major renovations or rebrandings, they often stay open for business throughout, hiding construction behind temporary partitions and doing the work in phases so there are always enough hotel rooms, restaurants and casino games to cater to guests. The benefits to staying open are a continuing flow of revenue and keeping staff employed and paid throughout the sometimes lengthy process. 

It took more than two years start to finish for MGM Resorts and Sydell Group to remake the aging Monte Carlo into the Park MGM, a distinct new brand with a residential aesthetic, artwork throughout and an array of new food and beverage outlets contributing to its cosmopolitan identity. 

"Sydell Group has proven to be expert in taking existing buildings and reimagining what they can be," said Jenn Michaels, MGM Resorts senior vice president of public relations. "We began our work in earnest later in 2016, transforming the building venue by venue, and celebrated the property's grand opening on Dec. 28, 2018. The final pieces included the opening of Las Vegas' first Eataly and the launch of 'Lady Gaga Enigma' at Park Theater."

Keeping a resort operating while doing considerable construction presents distinct challenges. At the Palms, which is in the midst of a $620 million update, general manager Jon Gray said, the "biggest challenge staying open while renovating is maintaining the guest experience for those visiting the property to both our local and out-of-town guests. The best way we accomplished this was by planning major construction pieces in groups to expedite the major work."

With AKQA Portland, the Palms created a marketing campaign centered around the changes, "From Dust to Gold," which Gray described as "the modern version of 'Pardon our Dust.'" It also rolled out the openings in phases, so buzzy steakhouse Scotch 80 Prime and rooftop lounge Apex Social Club were up and running months before restaurants like Vetri Cucina and Mabel's BBQ came online. 

At the Park MGM, two separate teams focused on development and operations, and when crucial amenities  like the pool -- were unavailable, guests were welcomed at neighboring MGM properties like the Aria and New York-New York. 

"Because we released the Park MGM rooms in phases, we were able to introduce those as a 'preview' to our loyal guests," Michaels said. 

While previous generations opted for the implode and rebuild model of casino development, Michaels said, today, MGM "did not believe that approach was either necessary or appropriate in a world of limited resources. Monte Carlo had a central location on Las Vegas Boulevard and the 'bones' of a terrific resort. It was imperative to the company that we keep the property's thousands of employees at work during the transformation."

The downside of not closing, though, is that you don't get to reopen. No weighty ribbon-cutting moment, no public anticipation of what's beyond the doors. That's a trade-off the Park MGM and the Palms are willing to make, but for the Virgin Hotel, a new resort from a company entering the Las Vegas market for the first time, a grand debut is part of the plan. 

"We want to enter the Las Vegas market strong," Leal said, "and guarantee we deliver an amazing experience for guests and locals alike."

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