Friday, March 11, 2011

A 7-Point Analysis Of Sahara's Closure

[UPDATE: Find other excellent analysis from David McKee at Stiffs & Georges. Point me the way if there's more elsewhere worth noting.]

OK. I raced to get my own version of the Sahara closure story up, and it was interesting because it seemed I was the one telling pretty much everyone I interviewed that it was happening. That included economist Stephen Brown from UNLV, Sandy Hackett whose dad's management of the show room drew in so many bold-faced names and Stacey Loizeaux, owner of the demolition company that gets the call whenever there's a piece of Vegas history to destroy.

You can read my account -- and their thoughts -- at AOL News. [Aside: I just received an email from my editor saying that despite the massive layoffs this week as a result of the AOL merger with Huffington Post, my gig is the same as always for at least a while. Whew and yay, because the new HuffPo traffic will make AOL News stories easily among the Web's most-viewed reporting.]

Anyhow, some little ideas and thoughts that have occurred to me, some of which I have Tweeted:

* Was Sharron Angle right? Remember when Sen. Harry Reid's GOP opponent suggested Reid's saving CityCenter and not, say, the Fontainebleau, was a case of government picking economic winners and losers? And when she said that the 12,000 jobs "saved" at CityCenter would end up coming from elsewhere? Is this the proof of that? If Reid had shaken down the Lending Tree and Fontainebleau had opened, would Nazarian have chosen to double down on Sahara rather than fold? Instead, a part of the Strip that looked just a couple years ago to be the Next Big Thing is an atrophied disaster area that some are suggesting shouldn't even be considered part of the Strip anymore. UNLV's Brown, in remarks I did not include in my piece, said it's not so simple, that CityCenter helps Vegas compete with posh international gaming destinations and distinguishes the city differently than, say, a Sahara overhaul might. Fair enough, but it's worth considering that the F'Blew effect is clearly a big factor in the Sahara's demise as well as the Riv's bankruptcy and other long-term construction paralysis in that area.

* What now, Monofail?
Seriously, what the hell happens now? Do they just shut down that stop? I've parked at the Sahara and ridden the rail to the Las Vegas Convention Center, and now I can't even park there to do that? What's the point?

* We heart Sahara. Riviera? Meh. The outpouring of emotion on Twitter today over the Sahara's fate is fascinating because it's so Stardust-esque. There's a genuine affection for the Sahara, but I suspect there won't be if/when the Riviera finally bites it. Not all Old Vegas properties are created equal, as we saw with the mourning over Stardust and the good-riddance shrugs over the Frontier.

* Woo-hoo, Interwebs! This story was broken by Chuck at VegasTripping.Com last night, a full 14 hours before the MSM picked up on it with Sam Nazarian's statement. I just love when this happens. I love it more when I'm the one who does it, but nonetheless, it warms my heart.

* Hooray For Unions. Organized labor has had a very rough year so far, and it's terrible that more than 1,000 employees will lose their jobs. But the only reason why they get to stay until May instead of being out on their asses tomorrow is that the unions got lawmakers to dictate a 60-day notice. So all you non-union folks at the parts of the Sahara that aren't union, be grateful for that, k?

* Will SLS Way disappear? Remember this bit of official branding:

So, what now? SLS stands for "Something Lovely's Starting" which is vomit-in-mouth-inducing to begin with. But will it just be wiped from the map?

* Commemorative chips anyone? I chatted with Sheldon Smith of the Casino Chip and Gaming Token Collectors Club for that AOL News piece as well, and he said that folks should expect a small bump in value of mint-condition Sahara chips after the closure. They're hoping they'll issue commemorative closing chips, too, which could be a lot of free money for the casino. I'm doubting it, though; unlike Boyd, which did it for the Stardust, Nazarian and his crew aren't really in the casino business. (The casino was managed for them.) That said, could be time to get over there and grab some keepsakes. Or maybe they'll have an auction! Yay!

That's all I got for the moment. More will come, no doubt.

Special Podcast Up With Richard Marx

As I wait for my AOL News piece on the Sahara closure to post so I can blog it and discuss it a little, here's a little something we put into the podcast feed last night. Enjoy. -sf

3/10 SPECIAL: A Conversation With Richard Marx

Listeners of this show will NOT be surprised to learn that Steve is a big fan of none other than 1980s and 1990s pop balladeer Richard Marx. So when the opportunity presented itself to interview Marx on Thursday, he made it work. Since Marx plays the Orleans Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas this Saturday and Sunday, March 12 and 13, we didn’t want to wait until next week’s show to release it. Marx, of course, is well known for some of the biggest pop ballads of the 1990s including “Hold On To The Nights,” “Now and Forever” and “Right Here Waiting.” Over the past decade, he became a music producer and songwriter for the likes of N Sync, Barbra Steisand and Luther Vandross. He lives with his wife, “Flashdance” and “Dirty Dancing” star Cynthia Rhodes, and their three sons in the Chicago suburbs. In his hey day, Marx sold more than 30 million records and was the first solo artist to see his first seven songs make the top 5 on the Hot 100 singles charts.

In this conversation, Marx explains why he stopped cutting albums of his own, expresses pity and annoyance at Phil Collins of Collins’ recent public diatribe against the music business and sings some of the very well-known advertising jingles his father wrote.

Relevant links:

Richard Marx's website
Get tickets to Marx's Orleans shows
Phil Collins' recent rant as he retires
More on Marx's dad, Dick Marx, aka the Jingle King

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Column/Pictorial: The Chip Monk & The Strip Church

If that's not the coolest stained glass in the history of Catholic churches, I don't know what is. (Click on it to enlarge and see the uber-Vegasy detail.) It's the lower portion of the panel in the far northeastern window of the main santuary and is actually tough to find, tucked back behind where the choir and organist do their things. Here's another, closer shot of the 1975 artwork. Just one of those casinos is even still standing.

I was at Guardian Angel to do this week's Las Vegas Weekly column about the Chip Monk, the fellow whose job it is (or was) to go cash in casino chips dropped in the collection baskets. They used to get more than $2,500 a month that way and he used to be able to cash them all at Caesars or the Trop, but times have changed. Go read all about him in my Las Vegas Weekly column.

Meanwhile, here's a Flickr slideshow of images of from the church and my visit. One fun part is that many of the stained glass panels were paid for by famous Las Vegans like Danny Thomas and Wilbur Clark, as you'll see.

And here's just one shot I thought was artful. I call it "Two Cathedrals."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Show is UP: RIP Miss America '43

I was really thrown when I learned yesterday that former Vegas headliner Jean Bartel, the groundbreaking Miss America 1943, died on Sunday at 87. I had interviewed her for my column only six weeks ago! We had a lovely, insightful conversation, so I thought I'd play it on this week's show in her memory. Enjoy. As always, you can click on the date below to get it to play or right-click on it to download it to listen at your leisure. Or, of course, subscribe for free in iTunes or Zune. -sf

March 7: There She Was, Miss America

Less than two months ago, Miss America 1943 Jean Bartel was in Las Vegas for the pageant’s 90th anniversary celebration. She was the oldest living winner of the pageant and she had played the Strip as a singer at Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo back in the day. Steve interviewed her for his Jan. 19 column for the Las Vegas Weekly, and she sounded hale and hearty then. But on March 6, she died at the age of 87, so we remember her by playing Bartel’s final interview. In it, she offers her recollections as a groundbreaking Miss America who led the charge to create the scholarship program that is now its hallmark. Bartel also was the first Miss America to go to college, sold the most bonds in 1943 to support the World War II and even helped the US with some espionage work during the Cold War. During this conversation, she tells of hanging out with Danny Thomas at the Flamingo, reveals that her crown is on display at the Smithsonian and recalls Beth Myerson, Vanessa Williams and many other former beauty queens.In Banter: A Provo adventure, a word about cousin Paul Stanley, Ruffin doubts on the Cosmo, Caesars takes Fontainbleau’s castoff show and more.

Links to Stuff Discussed:

Steve’s Jean Bartel column and her LA Times obituary
Follow Rod Schiffman on Twitter
Caesars Palace is turning a tower over to Nobu
Watch Phil Ruffin's 3/7 appearance on Sam Shad's Nevada Newsmakers program
The latest on Charlie Palmer’s hotel in downtown Vegas
Terry Fator’s gay puppet debuts on George Lopez show
VegasHappensHere.Com on the similarities between Fator’s cougar puppet and Lucy the Slut from Avenue Q
Steve’s Vegas pool reviewfor the LA Times
Report from Reuters on suicide at Cosmopolitan
Chuck Monster’s Vegas Tripping rant about his latest Cosmo misery
VegasHappensHere.Com, AOL News and the Las Vegas Weekly about the Las Vegas Mob Experience at the Trop
MGM Resorts’ press release extending health benefits for transgender care
VegasHappensHere.Com on the Vdara Kwik-E-Mart
Absinthe show opening March 21 outside Caesars
Steve’s AFP piece on Teresa Scanlan’s Miss America 2011 triumph

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sun Wins Pre-Pulitzer Prize! (And The RJ Changes Pollsters)

[UPDATE: Marshall Allen leaves the Sun for the nonprofit investigative journalism organization Pro Publica tomorrow. CONGRATS!]

Here we go, Vegas! The Las Vegas Sun is -- as I said a few weeks ago -- a serious threat for its second Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in three years after tonight's huge triumph as winners of the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting from Harvard's Shorenstein Center.

Reporters Marshall Allen and Alex Richards landed the $25,000 award, a predictor of Pulitzer finalists, for the investigative report "Do No Harm: Hospital Care in Las Vegas."

Bravo. The Pulitzers are announced in mid-April. A very big deal.

* * *

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, the new Review-Journal regime continues the mopping up job. Yesterday, they ran a big poll in the Vegas mayor's race. This is the big picture:

But this here is the news:

Their new pollster is Magellan Research. They dumped Mason Dixon, it appears. Which makes sense since they had the polling completely bass-akward in the Reid-Angle race and mislead the national press in the process. You know how it's an improvement? I don't recall Jon Ralston making any remarks at all about the methodology.

The Strip is LIVE Tonight!!!

Sorry for the late notice, but we are definitely doing a show tonight at 8 p.m. PT and you can watch and listen via UStream by going here:

Our guests this week are "Caveman" Kevin Burke and "Chip Monk" Arthur Nelson. Who? Well, tune in and find out. Plus, all the banter you can shake a stick at and a new trivia question. So join us or wait for the podcast version, probably out on Tuesday. That's your call!

A Mobster Week For Friesster

For a guy who doesn't much care about the Mob, I certainly got plenty out of my preview last Monday at the Las Vegas Mob Experience at the Tropicana. I went to do an AOL News piece on the competing Mafia attractions coming to Vegas, but I came away alarmed that the Mob Museum planned for downtown may have met its match. So here's this week's Las Vegas Weekly column on that, plus my Flickr slideshow behind the scenes the day before it opened for previews. Enjoy. -sf

The New Mob Wars
Could Goodman’s pet project get whacked?

Back when concrete plans were coming together for the construction of a $43 million mob museum in Downtown Las Vegas, I was a vocal media cheerleader. Tourists constantly ask me how they can soak in the town’s Mafia lore, so if this was done right, it would be a slam dunk. On one TV show, I said I couldn’t imagine how Oscar Goodman’s big brainstorm could fail.

Well, now I can. I’m quite worried, in fact.

Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com