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They burned the Monte Carlo ... and may get away with it
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Yesterday, a large gaggle of local media traipsed through the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino's in-progress new version of The Joint (or Joint 2.0, if you will). Those on hand included Mike Weatherford and Jason Bracelin from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, City Life's Mike Prevatt and Dave Surratt, as well as a gushy, gung-ho reporter from KLAS-TV, among many others (but not "the Hindenburg," thankfully).
As is the case with many a hard-hat tour it bordered on pointlessness, in that you're looking at an empty concrete shell much of the time. Only the stage (40 feet deep, with a 69-foot proscenium) actually resembled what it will eventually become. The stage's dimensions, we were informed, match those of the Aladdin Theater for the Performing Arts ... site of ABBA's only Las Vegas appearance, by the way.
Why these preview tours aren't given when the facility is in some semblance of finality is one of the enduring mysteries of Las Vegas. Hence, computer-generated renderings will have to provide an idea of the finished product, which ought to look very much like this:
All those seats can be stored beneath the stage on a series of beds that roll out at the touch of a button, yielding this look:
As you'll see, the sound-and-lighting booth has been moved to smack-dab in the middle of the main floor. Not only will the stage be flanked by giant video screens, a third, even larger one (18' X 24') will hang at the rear of the set. Other technical specs include:
• A 96-channel mixing board • 12 subwoofers, distributed in clusters of three apiece • 23 "delay" loudspeakers (presumably to simulate the resonance that is being soaked by the acoustical-absorption material that will cover many of the surfaces) • 38 small-ish flat-screen TVs • four video projectors • 28 moveable lights • a live-blogging station for media coverage • WiFi access throughout.
As big as it looks, the furthest seat is 155 feet from the stage and I can report that the sightlines are excellent (something that could not always be said of Ye Olde Joint, with its flat main floor). If your taste runs to blood sports, Joint 2.0 can be rejiggered to host wrestling, boxing and mixed martial arts, like so:
HRH exec Paul Davis said the goal of the new facility was to cosset "arena-sized productions in a small-capacity [4,000-seat] venue." Why upsize the old Joint? The market has changed, particularly in terms of the size of the shows -- and the guarantees demanded by the artists themselves. ("We're doing our best to keep ticket prices in check," Davis promises.)
Aforesaid artists shan't have to mingle with regular people, as they can go straight from a loading dock that accommodates three buses or trucks to a four-dressing-room backstage area, augmented with a luxurious green room. The latter is connected via a spiral staircase to Wasted Space, if the artist feels like a late-night jam session.
Keeping with the current Vegas spirit of pointedly sequestering the haves from the have-nots, the second floor of Joint 2.0 is all-VIP. The side balconies will be outfitted with highboy tables (it's standing-room only one floor up) and the middle of the tier is given over to seven luxury suites, approximately 430 square feet apiece. Some can be made even larger still, thanks to retractable walls. There is seating for 12 or ...
... an ottoman-laden lounging area, if you can't be bothered with watching the concert. Back on the main floor ...
... the foyer and back-bar area are spacious indeed. The style of the railings (not shown) is carried over from the previous Joint. The walls are done in the style of a guitar fretboard, one which we were assured is musicologically correct.
The HRH was able to obtain Paul McCartney as its first superstar act because -- as Davis put it -- "He wanted a down-and-dirty, old-fashioned rock 'n roll show," where he could see "the fans right down in his grille" The fact that the Joint's opening coincides with McCartner's Coachella gig didn't hurt either. General Manager Yale Rowe said "all the stars aligned" to land McCartney in the HRH's lap. "We were quite conscious of having multiple styles [of music]. We wanted to have a mega-concert that was going to open The Joint."
Open the doors and see all the computer-generated people!
Back when Ed Scheetz was still calling the shots at HRH minority owner Morgans Hotel Group, he identified Priority One as raising ADRs at the property. Rowe says that goal met with "great success" initially, when the Vegas market was at its zenith. "The consumer is almost dictating what the price points are going to be [now]," he added, noting that the Hard Rock's room rates aren't as resilient as those for most Morgans properties, though not as depressed as those of Vegas in general.
The Joint represents $60 million of a $750 million expansion, stacked atop the $770 million Morgans (or rather, its bank) paid to acquire the HRH. Much of that money is also going toward 60K square feet of convention and meeting space. Hence the 860 additional hotel rooms, in two towers, that are coming on line in August and December, respectively.
Another reason for the more-than-doubling of the property's room capacity is that, according to Rowe, the HRH has been doing spectacularly well with high-end play, save one respect: "We haven't had the room space that satisfies their discerning requests." And anyone who's followed the "Omar" Siddiqui* scandal knows just how unpleasant a dissatisfied high roller can be -- sort of like unfed infants, only more hysteria-prone.
(* -- Turns out Siddiqui's luck wasn't entirely bad. It seems he cleaned the clocks of Tim Poster and Tom Breitling back when they owned the Golden Nugget.)
HRH officialdom keeps voicing the refrain that their project has been "fully financed" since Homer was a pup. In light of this, a question was irresistible: Why didn't Morgans finance its pre-existing commitment to Echelon instead of channeling all that dough into the Hard Rock? How did the latter jump to the head of the financing queue? (It was Morgans' terminal fecklessness that helped send Echelon into cold storage, though that may yet prove a blessing in disguise.) Morgans says they'll get back to me on that but I'm not holding my breath.
While gambling still represents but a third of the HRH's cash flow, Rowe adds that he "always gave Hard Rock the credit for debunking the theory that all the revenue had to come through the casino." He also praises Peter Morton's regime for proving that the pool could be a major source of lucre. As for the current decline, he says it's consistent across all departments of the property. Allowing that it's "tough not to clamor up and play defense all the time," Rowe says, "We still succeed in getting volumes of people" into the place ... although the casino floor was utterly dead on Thursday. It can't help that construction has rendered the HRH damn near inaccessible.
The only bad news regarding The Joint is that, from the outside, it looks like somebody has flung a big-ass, off-white warehouse on the Paradise Road side of the HRH. Between that and a new parking garage and hotel tower on Harmon Avenue, Morton's original boutique hotel is almost completely masked from the street. A couple of Hard Rock neon icons on the exterior of Joint 2.0 will provide scant relief from what can only be described as a ghastly design miscalculation.
At least this will remove any ambiguity from giving directions to the HRH in the future: "It's the huge, fugly jumble of stuff down there; you can't miss it."