Las Vegas Sun

September 23, 2014

Boardwalk runs out

The suspense is over for employees of the Boardwalk on the Strip, who have learned that the hotel will close Jan. 9.

On Friday, parent company MGM Mirage mailed letters to the Boardwalk's 749 employees, informing them that they will lose their jobs Jan. 9, but will be allowed to apply for open jobs at other company properties.

MGM Mirage will begin tearing down the 654-room property, which will be leveled to make way for the planned CityCenter, a $5 billion hotel and condominium complex expected to open by the end of 2009.

The Coney Island-themed Boardwalk will not be imploded; it will be demolished piece by piece in a process expected to take up to five months.

MGM Mirage, Nevada's biggest employer and taxpayer, sent the letter to comply with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, a law requiring companies with 100 or more employees to give 60 days' advance notice for a plant closing or mass layoff.

Boardwalk workers also were told in the letter that the company will try to help them find other jobs within the company.

Employees who move to another MGM Mirage property will retain their seniority and benefits, but will be required to meet all of the company's typical requirements for new hires, including passing a drug test.

Starting today the Boardwalk will open an employment center for workers, allowing them to apply for jobs within the company. MGM Mirage also will host an internal job fair for Boardwalk workers Nov. 16.

Boardwalk President Forrest Woodward, a 10-year veteran at the property, said he is optimistic that employees will not only find jobs but that qualified workers will find better positions at other properties.

MGM Mirage has instituted a hiring freeze at some of its hotels in preparation for absorbing jobs lost at the Boardwalk, Woodward said.

"Absorbing 750 people when you've got 70,000 employees isn't going to be a problem," he said. "They are doing yeoman's work at MGM Mirage to make that happen," he said.

For now, some Boardwalk workers have their doubts.

Bartender Ricardo, who didn't give his last name, said he's expecting a difficult transition.

Bartender and server positions on the Strip are very competitive and have been harder to come by than other positions, such as dealing, he said.

Boardwalk workers also can't rely on a union to ensure that they find jobs elsewhere, he said.

Unlike MGM Mirage's other resorts on the Strip, the Boardwalk isn't represented by the Culinary Union.

"I may not lose seniority, but I may lose the privilege of being behind the bar," Ricardo said.

Michael Pira, owner of Par-A-Dice Scooter Rentals inside the Boardwalk, said he is one of many third-party vendors notified to vacate the property in the next several weeks.

Pira, who moved from Chicago a year ago to get into the scooter business in Las Vegas, said the closure comes at an unfortunate time and is sooner than he expected.

"There's a very homey atmosphere here, and the access in and out of the property is very easy," he said. "They've been good to me. Everything about it was perfect."

Pira said he has so far had no luck finding a comparable location on the Strip to attract passers-by.

"I've made a big investment in this," he said. "I want to make it work."

Nevada Partners, a Las Vegas-based nonprofit group, says it is ready to help train Boardwalk workers for jobs at other hotels. The agency works with the Culinary Training Academy, which provides job training for nonunion workers for a fee.

Nevada Partners and Culinary Training Academy Executive Vice President Pam Egan said Boardwalk workers can apply for scholarships and receive means to offset the tuition.

MGM Mirage spokesman Gordon Absher said the company doesn't have a great need for outside services because it intends to help place employees within the company using internal job placement efforts.

"We've got 10 other resorts, and we believe we'll be able to help those folks within the same family," he said.

The Boardwalk has been the subject of many redevelopment rumors over the years.

Steve Wynn's Mirage Resorts bought the Boardwalk in 1998 as part of a $144 million deal. Since then, employees have operated under a cloud of uncertainty, knowing that Wynn or his successor would someday redevelop the building, Woodward said.

MGM Grand picked up the 66-acre Boardwalk site when it acquired Mirage Resorts in 2000. MGM Mirage initially envisioned developing some sort of Generation X-themed resort at the site. Instead the company hired an urban planning firm to help devise the concept for CityCenter, announced last year.

The company has already begun work building a parking garage behind the Boardwalk that will be used by employees at the nearby Bellagio, who now use surface parking.

Demolition of other businesses along the Strip on the CityCenter site will begin in mid-November. They include the Seven nightclub, a T-shirt shop and a helicopter tour operator.

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