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August 1, 2014

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Stratosphere has high hopes for its new neighbor SLS

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L.E. Baskow

The Stratosphere and the Strip are seen from a Maverick helicopter on the way to opening night of Electric Daisy Carnival at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday, June 20, 2014.

The Stratosphere offers one of the more majestic views of the Strip. But what you see as you peer down from the Top of the World restaurant, Level 107 Lounge or the tower’s observation deck isn’t always so wondrous.

Almost directly below the 900-foot-high perch is the notoriously inactive, northernmost region of the Strip, left inanimate by the 2006 closing of the Stardust and that hotel’s implosion a year later, and the shuttering of the Sahara in May 2011. A 90-acre lot to the north of what was to replace the Stardust, the Echelon, long has been an unused dirt lot.

At night, when you gaze at the area in comparison to glowing resorts farther south, you see a black barrier between the Stardust land and potential tourists.

But the Stratosphere finally is ready to welcome some new neighbors when SLS Las Vegas opens Aug. 23 on the former Sahara property. The opening of SLS is to be followed by the arrival of the live-music fortress Rock in Rio next May and the development of the Genting Group’s Resorts World Las Vegas, due to open its first phase in 2016.

“We’ve definitely looked forward to it as a super-positive development,” Stratosphere General Manager Paul Hobson said of the SLS debut. “Ever since the Sahara closed, we have seen a drop-off from walk-in traffic. People need a reason to come to the north end of the Strip, and we have known this for a long time.”

The specific drop in pedestrian business, and how much revenue has been lost since SBE Entertainment closed the Sahara, has never been formally tabulated by Stratosphere officials. But there is no question that the amount of foot traffic crossing from the Sahara toward the Stratosphere has been close to nonexistent for more than three years.

Whatever boost in business the Stratosphere experiences this fall and beyond will be treated as a bonus.

“What we talk about are strategies that we can control as an operator, and we can’t control how much foot traffic will come to us from any other property,” Hobson said. “Our objective is to reinforce our own brand. We need to move forward with our own initiatives, and whatever ancillary walk-in business we get is outside of that strategy.”

SLS will be a slick, contemporary, Beverly Hills-fashioned resort. The lineup is expected to include retailer Fred Segal; swanky restaurants the Bazaar by José Andrés and Katsuya by Starck; and nightclub Life, which will carry a similar sophisticated vibe as SBE’s Hyde at the Bellagio.

The Stratosphere, which opened 18 years ago under resort maverick Bob Stupak, isn’t gunning for the SLS demographic. As Hobson says, “Part of the appeal for tourists on the north end of the Strip is that these hotels are symbiotic in some respects, and you can even say that the Genting project falls into that category. We can offer something different.”

Asked what the Stratosphere offers that SLS visitors might find appealing, Hobson chuckles.

“The tower itself, which is a remarkable structure, will be a drawing point,” he said. “It always has been. People want to go up there and check it out. The thrill rides, the Sky Jump, are something that are unique to the Stratosphere and that appeal to a lot of people. Level 107 Lounge and Top of the World restaurant are unique, and anyone staying at SLS would be interested in experiencing the city from that vantage point.”

Also, SLS doesn’t offer live entertainment outside its nightclub, while the Stratosphere’s showroom features such productions as the Frankie Moreno show and “Pin Up.”

“That’s another way that our existence has some synergy,” Hobson said. “I think guests in our respective hotels will benefit from the variety of amenities in these hotels, no question.”

When SLS throws open its doors next month, the head of the neighborhood welcoming committee should be easy to spot. He’ll be the guy wearing the name tag with that familiar, pointed tower.

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