Sunday, September 02, 2007


Party Central, for a Richer Crowd - New York Times

The new owner of Las Vegas' Hard Rock Hotel is going to try attract an upscale crowd while still retaining the property's hard-partying reputation.

THE Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas is undergoing a $750 million renovation and expansion and is expected to emerge with its party image intact but with a broader — and more upscale — clientele, according to its new owners.

The Hard Rock was bought by the Morgans Hotel Group in February for $770 million with an equity partner; it is the first project undertaken by the company without the guiding hand of Ian Schrager.
“It’s a somewhat unusual purchase for our company,” said W. Edward Scheetz, who has been president and chief executive of the Morgans Hotel Group since 2005. “But we saw a huge opportunity to take what was there, and do a little better job with it, expand and upgrade it to appeal to a broader audience. It hasn’t been reinvented over the years.”

The job of reinventing such a strongly branded hotel and casino has been given to Mark Zeff, founder and president of Zeff Design, an architecture, design and branding firm based in New York.

The project involves not only renovating existing spaces, but also adding two towers, for a total of 1,100 rooms.

Also planned are a new concert space, pool, spa and gambling area; additional restaurants and retail space; and new meeting and convention space that will cater to business conferences for the music and media industries. The projected completion date is mid-2009.

“We’re taking the Hard Rock up a notch,” said Matt Armstrong, senior vice president for business development for Morgans in Las Vegas, who is overseeing not just the Hard Rock but also two other projects that Morgans has in the works in a joint venture with the Boyd Gaming Corporation. “At the Hard Rock, we’re looking to attract somebody today who goes to the Wynn or Bellagio but who is looking for a hipper, edgier experience”

The challenge, according to Mr. Zeff, is broadening the clientele without alienating Hard Rock loyalists. To that end, one of the two new towers will have a separate entrance with its own European-style pool (in other words, topless) and spa (to be designed in conjunction with Amy Sacco, a nightclub entrepreneur in New York), and a handful of 2,000-square-foot deluxe suites, to be designed by celebrities or with an individualized theme.

“People in the rock world or who aspire to be in that environment are not thinking about Pete Townshend’s guitar,” Mr. Zeff said, referring to the memorabilia for which the Hard Rock is known. “They’re thinking about a Vegas rock-star lifestyle.”

And while Mr. Zeff’s mission is to capture a more upscale crowd, it has to be achieved without losing that rock-star edge.


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