Gamblin' Man

Barrick Gaming has big plans for downtown

By: Kathy Espin

Stephen Chrystal is a man with big plans and they’re all tied to the larger-than-life dreams of Las Vegas’ larger-than-life mayor, Oscar Goodman.

Chrystal is president and co-founder of Barrick Gaming, the company that, a year ago, purchased a fist full of fading Downtown Las Vegas properties, including the Plaza Hotel and Casino. The company’s ambitious plan is to ride the wave of redevelopment being touted by Goodman, the city’s most colorful cheerleader.

“We could have chosen to invest in a number of places, and we chose to invest in Las Vegas and in the older casinos because we see the hard evidence of a revitalization in downtown,” said Chrystal.

The Plaza sits between the Fremont Street Experience, the entertainment plaza featuring a 1,400-foot LED light display, and the site of a new city hall and the new World Market Center.

Chrystal said his company plans to redevelop and rehabilitate the six aging properties the company owns, but he admitted that what he really means is tear down and rebuild.

“Everybody knows that, in Las Vegas, there’s nothing better than an implosion party,” he said.

Barrick Gaming plans to replace the Plaza and other properties with new hotel-casinos, entertainment facilities, high-rise condos and condo/hotels, where unit owners can turn unused nights over to adjacent hotels to use as room inventory.

All this will take place over the next five to 10 years, Chrystal said, a relatively short time in terms of urban redevelopment.

In the mean time, Barrick Gaming will make the most of what exists. The company spent more than $10 million in the last year putting rouge and lipstick on the fading dowager of downtown. Guestrooms have had cosmetic makeovers and public areas have been cleaned and spruced. Ongoing improvements will include a renovation of 29,000 square feet of meeting space and revamping the seventh-floor pool deck of the Plaza that overlooks Fremont Street. But more important, Chrystal said, was a campaign to raise the service standards, to retrain and remotivate the hotel’s employees.

The hotel is also the subject of an active promotional campaign. Promotions are fun, innovative and geared to attract media and public attention. In the last year, the Plaza has been the site of international arm wrestling championships, nationally recognized burger-eating contests, boxing matches and televised poker contests. A year ago, the Plaza took an all-or-nothing bet from a Londoner who gambled his entire net worth on a single spin of a roulette wheel. Ashley Revell had approached several Strip and downtown properties with his $130,000 proposition and was turned down. Barrick took the bet and enjoyed international attention, both negative and positive, when Revell won.

Larry Manetti, who starred in “Magnum P.I.,” serves as entertainment director of the hotel. He has lent his name to a new Italian restaurant in the famous Center Stage Room, with a curved glass wall offering Vegas’ best view of the Fremont Street Experience.

Chrystal said the plan is to upgrade not just the hotel but the type of customer found at the hotel.

“A lot of people come downtown looking for a motel experience and there is nothing wrong with that,” he said.

But the Plaza hopes to attract the customer who wants a hotel experience but doesn’t want to pay the price to stay in the mega-resorts on the Strip.

Room rates run from $39 midweek and $69 weekend to $109 and more during peek periods. The hotel pays 10 percent commission to travel agents.

Barrick Gaming Properties
Since March 2004, Barrick Gaming has acquired six properties in Downtown Las Vegas.

Plaza Hotel and Casino
One Main St.

Vegas Club Hotel and Casino
13 E. Fremont St.

Western Hotel and Casino
899 Fremont St.

Gold Spike Hotel and Casino
400 E. Ogden

Nevada Hotel and Casino
235 S. Main St.

Queen of Hearts Hotel and Casino
19 E. Lewis Ave.

Barrick’s holdings also include 30 acres of undeveloped property in Downtown Las Vegas.