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September 22, 2014

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David Siegel’s Westgate seizes LVH: ‘Rock Vault’ rocks on, but it’s bye-bye, Shimmer

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Christopher DeVargas

David Siegel, founder and CEO of Westgate Resorts, and Aaron Neal of Yesco prepare to be hoisted more than 200 feet to remove the LVH letters off the main sign of Westgate’s newly purchased property Tuesday, July 1, 2014.

LVH to Westgate

Yesco sets up large cranes in preparation to remove the LVH letters off the main sign of Westgate's newly purchased property, formerly the Las Vegas Hotel, Tuesday July 1, 2014. Launch slideshow »

David and Jackie Siegel

David Siegel is not one to roll the bones.

“I don’t gamble in casinos,” he says. “The house always wins.”

But today, Siegel is the house.

The master of the manor at the redubbed Westgate Las Vegas made his formal debut Tuesday morning ceremonially pulling the “L” off the old LVH sign facing Paradise Road. That event marked Westgate’s formal takeover of the hotel, previously owned by Goldman Sachs in a partnership with finance company Gramercy Capital.

Whether being hoisted by a crane or just striding around the casino, the 79-year-old Siegel is a towering figure. His company owns 28 timeshare resorts across the country, and he also is building the largest private residence in the United States, a 90,000-square-foot home near Orlando, Fla., dubbed the Versailles House.

That home is modeled after the original Palace of Versailles in France and also the top three floors of the Paris Las Vegas resort on the Strip. When Siegel first saw that floor, when he was staying at Planet Hollywood (home of his PH Westgate timeshare tower), he thought, “That would make a nice house.”

Siegel has since sold PH Westgate to Hilton Vacations but has wound up snaring a onetime Hilton hotel, LVH.

Though the announcement of the sale was long anticipated (Siegel members of his Westgate team were seen at the property for several weeks), many questions remained about the transactions until Siegel’s appearance Tuesday. Some questions and answers about the newly opened Westgate Resorts:

What is Westgate’s total investment in the hotel?

North of $300 million, including renovation costs. Siegel says he will spend more on renovations to the resort than he did to buy it, with a purchase price of $150 million to $180 million according to reports here and elsewhere.

Is the old International and Las Vegas Hilton now a timeshare property?

Not by that definition. One hundred to 200 suites are being offered for sale — and officials were hoping to secure the first sales by the end of Tuesday or today — in a hotel with 3,000 rooms. Says Siegel: “This is a hotel-casino with a timeshare component.”

So the casino and sportsbook will remain open?

Yes. Current casino operator Navegante, which holds the property’s gaming license, will work in partnership with Westgate. Siegel has toured the Venetian sportsbook with Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook director Jay Kornegay, who has a wealth of experience and an encyclopedic knowledge of sportsbooks. Expect a full-scale renovation of the old LVH SuperBook, complete with new tables and big screens. “It’s embarrassing,” said Siegel, who also plans to invest in new slot machines.

Will the hotel close during renovations?

No. As Siegel said, a half-dozen operators were looking at the hotel before Westgate bought LVH, and all of them wanted to shut down the hotel to enact upgrades. “That would have put 2,000 people out of work, and we thought we’ll work around the operation,” Siegel said. “It’ll cost more, but it will save a lot of jobs.”

Will “Raiding the Rock Vault” survive the change in ownership?

Yes. For now, at least. Siegel has seen the show and, while not a ’60s, ’70s and ’80s classic rock fan (his favorite artist is Liberace, and he saw Elvis perform 15 times back in the International and Las Vegas Hilton days), he was impressed and hopes to fill 1,600 seats (where 700 is considered a strong night). To meet that end, he has been in contact with what he calls a “major entertainment manager” over the past few weeks seeking a star frontman in the production.

Would that manager be Johnny Wright, who has managed Justin Timberlake, ’N Sync, New Kids on the Block, The Jonas Brothers and many other stars?

Wright showed up at the tail end of Siegel’s interview session Tuesday in a 29th-floor LVH suite, so I’d say yes.

What is planned for Shimmer Cabaret?

An indication of the impact Shimmer has had on Siegel is that he asked “What’s the Shimmer?” when I asked about Shimmer Cabaret. When reminded that the Shimmer is the smaller of the hotel’s two entertainment venues, Siegel said that room is not long of this world. Plans are in motion to turn Shimmer into an open lounge and performance area, where a lounge will be built around the stage. “We’ll have entertainment all day and all night,” Siegel says, but it won’t be ticketed. The only ticketed room will be the existing theater.

Siegel didn’t rule out moving the existing Shimmer acts into the theater, mentioning longtime Elvis impressionist Trent Carlini as an act who could be bolstered for a theater production. Siegel really likes Carlini (the two dined at T.J.’s on Monday night), but that show would need to be expanded mightily to move from the Shimmer to the big room.

Any other plans for the theater?

A renovation inside the old showroom is in the long-term plans. Apart from “Rock Vault,” Siegel mentioned possibly pursuing a production show along the lines of “Jubilee,” “Peepshow” or “Moulin Rouge” for that venue. He also is talking of a Broadway-style show for the theater.

What else is to be renovated?

Oh, everything. All the rooms. All of the hotel’s infrastructure, such as the electrical systems, restrooms (and you can start with those at the SuperBook entrance), carpeting in all public areas and all guest rooms and suites. “The hotel has been neglected and needs work,” Siegel said. “In fact, we have already started. We have already gutted some rooms. ... Not an inch will be untouched.”

Can we expect a change in the restaurant lineup?”

Yes. Sid’s coffee shop (named for Siegel’s father) will replace Paradise Cafe and be located across from Fortuna coffee bar. Edge steakhouse, an offshoot of the highly regarded restaurant at the Westgate Park City, Utah, resort, will replace T.J.’s. Siegel also plans to open full-time Italian and Mexican restaurants as a complement to Vince Neil’s Tatuado Restaurant & Cantina already on property.

What about the old Star Trek Experience space?

That 80,000-square-foot space will become a dayclub and nightclub.

What about Tempo lounge?

Also soon to be closed in favor of a high-limit gaming area.

Siegel owns an Arena Football League team?

Off-topic, but yes, he just bought the Orlando Predators. They will play Neil’s L.V. franchise in the Arena League (some reports say they might be called the Outlaws) at some point. Neil’s team is part of the league’s 2015 expansion and is still seeking an arena.

And he’s in a new reality-TV show? Not exactly. Siegel’s wife, Jackie, is to be featured on a new reality-based show on E! Entertainment that is to begin filming in a couple of months. Las Vegas will be part of the show, but Siegel is not eager to participate, as he didn’t like the film documentary “Queen of Versailles,” which chronicled his financial struggles and the snags in the construction of his mansion. “It was 25 percent wrong and 75 percent right,” he says. “After the documentary, I don’t want cameras near me.”

Was this his first foray into purchasing the property?

Nope. Siegel was a minority partner in an investment group that tried to buy Las Vegas Hilton in 2004 but was outbid by Colony Resorts (Siegel’s group offered $260 million; Colony $280 million). He also kicked the tires about a year ago and pulled back, uncertain that he wanted his company to take on the responsibility of operating a resort in need of so much refreshing and renovation. Two months ago, he charged back into the bidding competition.

Why? “I was suffering from non-buyer’s remorse,” says the man who wound up with a big prize and a big challenge.

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

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