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Vegas tourism agency may buy Riviera for up to $191 million

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  • The Riviera Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip on Feb. 16. (AP Photo/Kimberly Pierceall)

LAS VEGAS >> The aging Riviera hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip won’t be long for this world if a plan from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to buy, demolish it and make way for a growing convention center gets the go-ahead Friday morning.

The public agency charged with promoting the Las Vegas area wants to spend up to $191 million to buy the 2,075-room casino hotel that first opened in 1955 with Liberace headlining.

Among the oldest Las Vegas casino-hotels still standing, the Riviera, not unlike others, got its start with mob money and had its share of facelifts and revivals, along with multiple bouts with bankruptcy, over the years.

The agency confirmed the potential purchase Tuesday after days of not commenting on rumors of a deal. If it’s approved, the Riviera would close and the agency would raze it for what it’s calling the Las Vegas Global Business District.

Riviera Holdings Corporation, the casino-hotel’s owner, is led by principals and affiliates of Starwood Capital Group.

The agency’s board of directors has scheduled a meeting at 9 a.m. Friday to vote on the proposed purchase that would earmark up to $182.5 million for the price of the 26-acre property and up to $8.5 million for related costs.

If it’s approved, the casino-hotel would close within six months, according to the purchase agreement.

Agency officials still weren’t commenting Tuesday beyond an emailed statement saying it was premature to discuss the deal ahead of the board’s discussion Friday.

Tourism agency spokeswoman Heidi Hayes confirmed the casino-hotel would be demolished if the deal is approved.

The agency’s Las Vegas Convention Center has 2.18 million square feet of exhibit space now, less than Chicago’s McCormick Place, which has plans for an expansion of its own, but a little more than the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, which is undergoing capital improvements.

The $2.3 billion Las Vegas Global Business District plan would add nearly 1 million square feet of exhibit and meeting space.

Jim Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts, said he had been talking with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently. Emanuel told Murren he wanted his city to be number one for the amount of convention business it brings in.

“Well, we’re number one, and we don’t want him to be number one,” Murren said. The planned expansion would help Las Vegas fend off competitors and bring more business for every casino-hotel, including his own, even though the district will compete with his expanding convention space at Mandalay Bay, he said.

“To have a Strip presence for the first time is also really important. That convention-goer gets that sense of arrival,” Murren said. As it is now, the convention center sits a long block behind the Strip. “It would be a vast improvement over what we have today,” he said.

The Riviera isn’t the Strip’s oldest remaining casino-hotel — Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo is — but it’s close.

The hotel-casino was built by Miami investors with ties to the mob, and, at one point, Rat Pack member Dean Martin owned a 10 percent stake in the hotel, according to research by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Sitting on the north end of the Strip, the Riviera has struggled in recent years, and two towering vacant casino-hotel developments nearby haven’t helped, diminishing walk-up visits.

The not-so-glitzy property has promised $1 blackjack — a rare bargain on the Strip — and featured buns of bronze near the outside entrance with a sculpture of several statuesque showgirls from its Crazy Girls show, with an emphasis on their posteriors.

It filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010, re-emerging a year later. But the losses persisted.

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