Las Vegas Sun

December 19, 2014

Tower draws rave reviews

Singer Phyllis McGuire may have said it best: It was a Stupakular night.

It was also a fitting tribute to her longtime companion Bob Stupak, the oft-maligned but never-daunted entrepreneur whose dream became a reality Monday night with the opening of the Stratosphere Tower and resort.

The sparkling $550 million casino complex drew more than 8,000 invited guests to its premiere party, while thousands more lined the streets outside awaiting their chance for a glimpse of Las Vegas' newest mega-resort.

That came at midnight, when doors opened to the public, admitting the first of what seems certain to be a steady stream of visitors eager to sample spectacular views of the city from observation areas near the top of the 1,149-foot tower.

Early guests faced two-hour lines for the elevators that would whisk them far above the Strip, and most said it was well worth the wait.

"It's exceeded even my expectations," said Las Vegas Mayor Jan Laverty Jones, one of the earliest and staunchest of Stupak's supporters. "Standing on the outside deck on a perfect night like this and looking out over the lights of this city absolutely took my breath away. I think every visitor who comes to Las Vegas will want to see this sight."

"I think it's fantastic," said Lt. Gov. Lonnie Hammargren. "This tower will be the symbol of Las Vegas for all time. What Howard Hughes didn't do, Bob Stupak has finished off."

Stupak himself seemed uncharacteristically subdued, as if bemused by all the attention. After all, he said he was going to build it.

"I feel fine," he shrugged, a faint smile on his face. "What can I say?"

While Stupak took the hoopla in stride, other Stratosphere executives were more euphoric.

"I'm on top of the world," said Lyle Berman, Stupak's old poker pal and new business partner. Berman's Grand Casinos Inc. bought a 43 percent stake in the resort when a fire during construction threatened to halt the project halfway to completion. His business acumen and Stupak's manic energy combined to make Stratosphere a distinct departure from the dingy old Vegas World complex it replaced.

"I feel like a proud new father," said Stratosphere President Dave Wirshing, who will guide the resort's 3,100 employees. "These are some of the best people I've ever worked with."

"Almost without exception, people said the casino complex was far more beautiful than they expected and the tower was far more spectacular than they expected," said Tom Bruny, Stratosphere communications director. "Judging from their reaction, I think we have a winner."

Stratosphere's 97,000-square-foot casino sparkled with World's Fair-themed decor, while magicians, jugglers and other performers entertained visitors lined up for various attractions.

They included the Let It Ride Roller Coaster and the Big Shot, two thrill rides outside the pod near the top of the tower. The Big Shot drew the most attention, propelling riders 160 up a mast atop the pod in less than two seconds, then dropping them bungee style back to the starting point.

A six-minute, $50,000 fireworks show from the 900-plus-foot level began at 10:30 p.m. and could be seen from all over the Las Vegas Valley.

After weeks of customer-service training and a Sunday pep rally designed to build enthusiasm, Stratosphere workers appeared happy to get on with their jobs.

"It's been great so far," pai gow dealer Jane Strong said. "I've worked at other places over the past 10 years and this seemed like an exciting opportunity to be part of something new to Las Vegas."

"I came out here from New York because I wanted to work at the tower and meet people from all over the world," said cocktail waitress Michelle Grcic. "This is very exciting to me."

Las Vegas and Los Angeles television stations broadcast live from the resort, as did cable network CNBC and several radio stations. Print and broadcast journalists from around the world covered the opening.

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