The transfer of ownership of the SLS Las Vegas Hotel & Casino to the privately-held management company, The Meruelo Group, has been given the green light by the Nevada Gaming Commission. Expected to be completed by the month’s end, the acquisition of the struggling 1,616-room, three-tower Strip property from seller Stockbridge Capital Group was agreed upon in May last year.
The Meruelo Group’s founder, Reno-based businessman Alex Meruelo (pictured), reportedly said that they “have been looking forward to this day with great enthusiasm,” and “are thrilled to be acquiring” the SLS Las Vegas property which is a “fantastic asset with tremendous potential,” according to the press release. Meruelo, whose gaming and hospitality portfolio includes the 2,000-room Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno, added “This is a lifetime dream and a rare opportunity to own a property on the Las Vegas Strip.”
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that the 54-year-old Cuban-American Meruelo will invest as much as $100 million over the next couple of years to revitalize the property which operated as the Sahara Hotel and Casino for just shy of six decades. Spokesman Christopher Abraham said that the money will be spent on upgrading the rooms, refreshing the slot machine offerings, brightening the gaming floor and redesigning the pool.
Meruelo reportedly told the commission that investing in the redesign and upgrades would enable him to see the property profitable. He said, “The capital investment is something that will make a dramatic impact. Things are already turning around, and I am very optimistic,” according to the news agency.
Despite being known as a hangout for some of the most popular names in modern entertainment including Rat Pack members Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr, and the construction of the 24-story Alexandria Tower in 1963, which made it the tallest in the state at the time, the 1966 opening of Caesars Palace Las Vegas soon cut the Sahara’s hey-day short.
The property saw five different owners from 1952 to 2011, with Sam Nazarian [SBE Entertainment Group] and Stockbridge Real Estate Group acquiring it in 2007. However, after being deemed economically unviable by Nazarian, the Sahara was officially shut down on May 16, 2011 ending a 59-year run on the Strip.
Nazarian, whose ebe Entertainment owns the SLS brand, sold his stake in the SLS Las Vegas in October 2015 and agreed to franchise the hotel to Stockbridge Real Estate Group.
The Meruelo Group agreed to purchase the SLS Las Vegas in May last year and upon taking ownership will become the only privately held firm to own properties in both Las Vegas and Reno.
Whether or not Meruelo will change the name of the hotel back to the Sahara has yet to be decided. According to the news agency, Abraham said SLS brand recognition will be studied by Meruelo prior to making that decision.
“We will be using the SLS name for another year and will evaluate our options with the brand moving forward,” said Abraham.
Disagreements with Chinese lenders reportedly held up the purchase, which was expected to be finalized by October last year.
While the purchase price remains undisclosed, according to a November lawsuit filed by the Chinese lenders, the SLS Las Vegas had approximately $585 million of debt, which reportedly includes junior debt of $400 million to the Chinese investors and $185 million in senior debt to Los Angeles-based privately held portfolio lender Mesa West.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that according to court documents, Meruelo, who is non-party to the suit, will assume the Mesa West debt, which Meruelo reportedly said on Thursday was now about $140 million, in its entirety. Additionally, the Chinese investors will be paid an amount by Meruelo that is based on the property’s equity value in five years.