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September 16, 2014

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Rebirth of resort starts with the right name

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Steve Marcus

A view of the the Downtown Grand in downtown Las Vegas Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013.

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CEO Seth Schorr applauds a winning bet during the opening of the Downtown Grand Las Vegas Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas Sunday, October 27, 2013.

Naming hotels and hovels in downtown Las Vegas requires a special sense of environment. Downtown Grand, which for a time was named something else, is the latest example.

A bundle of names were tossed around to reflect the building’s classic décor and familiar position in the heart of the city, on 3rd and Ogden streets. At one time, Seth Schorr, who presides over the property as its chief executive officer, was swayed by a title reminiscent of bricks and mortar.

“We went through this naming exercise for a very long time, and the last one was ‘Brixton,’” Schorr said. “That’s with an ‘x,’ and we thought it looked cool and the ‘x’ was very symmetrical. The idea was the imagery went well with our brick façade; it just seemed right.”

But as logos were being designed and reviewed, someone remembered the history of Brixton in Great Britain.

“Suddenly, someone remembered the city in London where they had the big riots in the ’70s,” Schorr said. “We were like, ‘Nope. You might as well call it Watts.’ It was a blessing in disguise.”

Schorr reinforced the point that the Downtown Grand name was a nod to a classic, simple description.

“It was important to embrace downtown because downtown has meaning in Las Vegas as a geographic indicator,” he said. “You can get in a taxi and say, ‘Take me to Downtown Grand,’ and you have a general idea where to go.”

He also stressed that it was vital to be direct, unblinking and uncomplicated in describing a hotel that had been named Lady Luck and sat dormant for eight years.

“Look at the other names downtown: The Plaza. The Golden Nugget. These are pretty aspirational names, right?” Schorr asked. “So, sometimes there is a time to be cute and completely original, and there are other times where it’s important to get the message across that we are a nice property.”

The hotel has been open for six months. And it is indeed grand when compared to the state of the craggy Lady Luck when it closed in February 2006.

Downtown Grand is smartly designed in a 1920s-gangster motif. An enclosed bridge stretches from the main casino to the hotel tower and to Picnic, the rooftop pool area. The hotel spills visitors from the registration desk to the street outside, where on the sidewalk you can play blackjack or the new game Schorr helped devise. Street Dice has craps-based rules and mimics street-dice games from the Prohibition era.

Much of the action is on 3rd Street, between Downtown Grand’s casino and several businesses thirsting for more activity: Triple George, Mob Bar and Hogs & Heifers. That stretch is known as Downtown 3rd, or DT3, and it is owned by Downtown Grand. That privately owned street serves as an extension of the casino, which is why you can play blackjack and Street Dice out there.

What isn’t so prevalent is full-scale casino activity inside Downtown Grand. That, you have to look for.

“Many of our guests never walk into the casino,” Schorr said. “We designed a hotel that is very easy to walk into the lobby, go to the bar, go to your room and never walk into the casino.”

He chuckled at the concept of using the street and sidewalk to draw visitors, an idea eagerly embraced by major Strip resort operators.

“I don’t want to name any names, but I just want to say that I’ve been humbled and honored that some of the most important senior leaders of the largest conglomerates in Las Vegas have come to visit this property and have taken tours,” Schorr said, grinning. “I think it has been out of curiosity over what we’ve been doing.”

Schorr recalled the hotel’s first casino promotion, which at its core was not so inventive: a vehicle giveaway. But there was a twist.

“We gave away two Corvettes, a 1966 and a 2013,” he said. “They’re both super cool: the same model and same color. You pick the one you like.”

The giveaway was a subtle commentary on the past and the present — a grand idea, in the middle of downtown, at a hotel that knows exactly what it is.

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