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October 22, 2014

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A new beginning for old LVH

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Christopher DeVargas

David Siegel, Founder and CEO of Westgate Resorts, is hoisted up over 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 »

On July 1, a man who eschews reality show cameras climbed into a cage to be hoisted to the top of one of Las Vegas’ most famous marquees.

There, he helped strip the “L” from “LVH,” the first step in replacing the sign with one that will read “Westgate Las Vegas.”

And with that, the sale of the hotel was official, with Westgate founder David Siegel making it known he will not be shy in his efforts to return the former International and Las Vegas Hilton to its heyday.

“This hotel has very good bones,” he said, “but it has been neglected. Every room needs to be renovated. We’re starting with the worst and making them the best.”

Siegel is a throwback character, reminiscent of such Vegas resort pioneers as Jackie Gaughan, Sam Boyd and Benny Binion. He is the head honcho of 28 resorts throughout the country. As he says, “Every morning when I look in the mirror and shave, I have a board of directors meeting.”

What else is there to know about the 79-year-old?

• He saw Elvis perform at the International and Las Vegas Hilton 15 times. Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager, was godfather to Siegel’s first wife, Geraldine. “I saw Elvis thin, fat and all the different stages,” said Siegel, whose favorite entertainer was Liberace.

• He will spend more to renovate the hotel than he did to buy it. Siegel refused to name the sales price, but the rumor is he spent $150 million to $180 million. His entire investment is expected to exceed $300 million.

• He plans to replace Shimmer Cabaret with an open lounge that features free entertainment; replace Tempo Lounge with a high-limit gaming area; and add a nightclub/dayclub to the former Star Trek Experience space. There’s no timeframe for when the renovations will begin, but the Shimmer overhaul “is a high priority,” Siegel said.

• He plans to open a new café, Sid’s, named for his father, and bring Park City, Utah, steakhouse Edge to the hotel.

• His wife, Jackie, will star in a reality show on the E! cable network. Taping begins in two months. Siegel said that after his experience with the notorious documentary film “Queen of Versailles,” he wants little to do with the project. “After the documentary, I don’t want the cameras around me,” he said.

• He raised 14 children: 11 biological and three stepchildren. He and Jackie have seven children, ages 7 to 17.

• He doesn’t gamble in casinos and has never made a bet in a sports book.

• He still plans to finish building a 90,000-square-foot house near Orlando, Fla., the largest private residence in the world. Construction stopped in 2010 but has since resumed. The estimated value of the home is upwards of $75 million.

• Though according to Siegel, Westgate Resorts is “the Rolls-Royce of time-share companies,” Westgate Las Vegas will primarily be a hotel, not a time-share resort. Fewer than 200 suites in the 3,000-room hotel were up for sale in the first week of operation. “This is a hotel-casino with a time-share component,” Siegel said. “A very small portion will be time shares.”

• He first visited Las Vegas in 1955, hitchhiking to Fremont Street. “All the casinos looked like big houses, and you’d open a screen door and walk in,” he said. “The casino was about as big as this room. There was a little stage in the middle. I saw Gorgeous George, the wrestler, singing in one of these casinos.”

• He has no hobbies. “This is my hobby,” Siegel said. “I like to take a property that has been neglected and turn it into something beautiful. … That’s what motivates me.”

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