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July 23, 2014

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The 2014 Three to Watch: a downtown trailblazer, an accomplished AD and a legendary showman

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Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

Uncle Kracker at the D Hotel (owner Derek Stevens is pictured here) on Fremont Street on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, in downtown Las Vegas.

Each year dating to the dark recesses of 2011, we have produced a Three to Watch list of newsmakers for the upcoming year. As this is the first week of this year, which is 2014, we’ll again fire up one of our favorite annual columns.

First, let’s take a look at the three newsmakers who were the focus of the 2013 Three to Watch list:

Jonathan Segal, CEO, the One Group: Segal’s STK steakhouse at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas continues to do great business. That’s the good news. Otherwise, the One Group’s grand sports-themed restaurant and nightclub Heraea at the Palms collapsed for lack of business (even a high-end social club and the presence of Zowie Bowie could not arrest the venue’s decline). Also, Xi Shi, the restaurant that was to replace Little Buddha, never opened at that resort, which ended its business relationship with the One Group as Heraea closed. The ambitious Bagatelle partnership with the Trop didn’t last the year, either, as Hakkasan at MGM Grand usurped a lot of energy among late-night revelers on the corner of the Strip and Tropicana. Nonetheless, we’re still a big fan of Segal’s brazen approach to his career and life, still, which is now reflected solely in the high-energy STK.

Jeri Crawford, president and CEO, Las Vegas Philharmonic: The expectation was for Crawford and the L.V. Phil to have pinpointed a new music director in 2013, but that process will continue this year as it continues to showcase guest conductors. The orchestra produced its first full season at Reynolds Hall in the Smith Center for the Performing Arts and in December secured Siegfried & Roy as its honorees in the annual “Diamonds Are Forever” fundraiser March 1 at Aria, the symphony's biggest fundraiser of the year.

Bobby Hauck, head football coach, UNLV: “At some point, the head football coach of the local university needs to instill some consistent confidence that the team will be competitive,” I wrote a year ago almost to the day. Having suffered three consecutive seasons of two wins apiece, Hauck in 2013 led the Rebels to a 7-5 record and a bowl appearance, neither of which had happened since 2000. The Rebels fell to North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, but there is nary a complaint about the direction of the program as the 2013 season ended.

And now, the Three to Watch in 2014:

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Kid Rock at the D Las Vegas (owner and operator Derek Stevens is pictured here) on Fremont Street on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, in downtown Las Vegas.

Derek Stevens, owner, D Las Vegas and Golden Gate: The outcroppings of businesses and energy on Fremont Street drew ample coverage and attention in 2013, for good reason. That region has become one of the city’s most appealing, and enriching, enclaves. But what about Fremont West? You know, those old hotels under the Fremont Street Experience? Derek Stevens is the overlord of two major properties, and his D Hotel has blossomed under his stewardship, its slick renovation and attention to great restaurants (Andiamo is a wonderful place to dine) and live entertainment (love me some Scintas, the family act backed by the hotel) making it a favored downtown destination. In October, Stevens made a cagey move by buying the old 2.74-acre parcel that was once the site of the Clark County Courthouse. He bought the property in October for $10 million at public auction.

Maybe it was a real steal, as Stevens plans to demolish the building by June and use the land for a handful of events in concert with his hotels — such as actual concerts and food-and-arts festivals. He hopes to stage 10 such events in the second half of the year. Afterward, who knows? But that swatch on Third Street and Carson Avenue, moribund for nearly a decade, is due for some animation, and Stevens specializes in just that.

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UNLV athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy talks during a news conference for the Heart of Dallas Bowl Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Tina Kunzer-Murphy, UNLV athletic director: Jim Livengood announced his retirement from the UNLV athletic department with scant notice in the spring. Kunzer-Murphy was initially named interim AD, then was appointed permanently in December, becoming the first woman to hold the athletic department’s top post. It is doubtless Kunzer-Murphy is a real Rebel (uppercase if not lowercase): As the Sun’s Paul Takahashi reported in December, Kunzer-Murphy played tennis at UNLV and spent 15 years in ascent as the school’s women’s tennis coach, assistant AD and director of sponsorships for alumni relations. She managed the Western Athletic Conference football title game and basketball tournaments for Las Vegas Events and the LVCVA and spent 12 years as the executive director of the Las Vegas Bowl for ESPN Regional Inc. and also was GM for the ESPN Regional Institution Project for UNLV’s department of intercollegiate athletics.

The 2007 Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame inductee has said that a new stadium is the athletic department’s top priority, and a winning football program can help generate support for a suitable home venue. Kunzer-Murphy has the unique and deep intercollegiate athletics experience and keen knowledge of the city to helm that project.

Martyn J. Ravenhill and the Liberace House

British businessman Martyn J. Ravenhill poses in a marble bath tub during an open house and book signing at the Liberace house Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. Ravenhill purchased Liberace's former residence for $500,000 in August. He also recently published a book titled Launch slideshow »

Liberace: The first time we’ve listed a non-living entity on this list, but the Brand of Liberace is making a sequined-splashed comeback with its exhibit at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas (extended through February), followed by a planned load-in of the Liberace Foundation artifacts to Neonopolis by the end of the year. The Foundation hopes to soon return to funding scholarships to gifted students in the arts in Southern Nevada, and even the Liberace Mansion (which is not formally affiliated with the Foundation) has bolted back to life with the purchase of the old home by Liberace devotee Martyn Ravenhill.

The real-estate entrepreneur took the deed of the two-story, 15,000-square-foot estate on Shirley Street just across Tropicana Avenue from the Thomas & Mack Center for $500,000. At an event at the mansion in December, Ravenhill said that he plans to renovate the property and work in tandem with the Liberace Foundation to stage fundraising events. The involvement of Liberace’s ghost, who was reportedly present at the event in December, has not been announced.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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