LAS VEGAS - By the time the 2016 NAB Show rolls around, the landscape around the Las Vegas Convention Center and along the Strip will have changed quite a bit.
A conceptual drawing of the Las Vegas Global Business District features an expanded convention center. Courtesy of Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority
As part of its plans for the new Las Vegas Global Business District, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority purchased the historic Riviera Hotel and Casino’s 26-acre site as the cornerstone for an expansion. The cost was $182.5 million.
The Riviera closed May 4. A liquidation sale began May 14 and continued into June, according to the National Content Liquidators Website.
The dates for a demolition, likely by implosion, and start of new construction had yet to be made public in June.
The Riviera site will provide an entry point to a new business district on the strip, according to the LVCVA. The project will be completed in two phases. The first, at the Riviera site, will include 750,000 square feet of new exhibit space along with 187,500 square feet of supporting meeting space as part of the new 1.8-million square-foot expansion.
Phase two entails renovating the existing convention center and includes a 100,000-square foot general session space and another 100,000 square feet of meeting space. Including public and service areas, the expansion and renovation will increase the size of the facility from its current 3.2 million square feet to nearly 5.7 million square feet, according to the LVCVA. Once construction begins, the entire project is expected to take five to eight years.
The Riviera celebrated the many stars who appeared on its stages over the years.
1.2 MILLION ATTENDEES
The announced expansion is likely to be welcomed by the larger conventions held at LVCC.
“The NAB Show has experienced considerable growth over the last few years, and we look forward to conference and exhibit space that this expansion will provide — particularly for marquee events and other conferences that have had to locate off-site due to space and venue quality,” an association spokesman said.
The Consumer Electronics Association, which produces the International Consumer Electronics Show each year, recently said it was capping attendance for next year’s event due to overcapacity concerns, Radio World has reported.
The LVCC hosts approximately 1.2 million convention delegates each year. Those visitors and the conventions they attend support 14,000 local jobs, sustain $530 million in wages, and generate an annual revenue stream of $1.7 billion.
These changes could mark the beginning of even bigger movement in this part of Las Vegas. In addition to the $2.3 billion convention center expansion and renovation, the new business district project includes the creation of economic development in the neighborhoods surrounding the center. That includes a planned business center that uses the facility’s World Trade Center designation to attract corporations wanting to interact with tens of thousands of businesses that visit the convention center each year.
RAT PACK ERA
The closing of the Riviera coincided with its 60th anniversary; the building opened in April of 1955. It was the first high-rise hotel-casino in Vegas. Until then, Strip resorts looked like roadside motor courts. The nine-story, 300-room tower signified the beginning of a vertical expansion of hotels into the Vegas skyline.
At the time, it looked like something from Miami Beach. Not coincidentally, the architects, Roy France and Son, were based in Miami, as were the original developers.
Creative Commons 2.0, by rojer, www.flickr.com/photos/rojer/750716415/
When it opened, the Riviera boasted the Hickory Room Restaurant, Cafe Noir, Le Bistro and the Clover Room showroom, as well as an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The casino contained 18 table games and 116 slot machines, small by today’s standards but considered lavish at the time.
Over the years, the Riviera continued to expand, adding towers and more gaming space. The last renovation in 1990 enlarged the casino to 70,000 square feet for a total of nearly 125,000 square feet, bringing the building right to the sidewalk, and making it one of the largest casinos in the world. Unfortunately, the renovation ran over budget, leading to the first of several bankruptcy filings, according to local news accounts. In 2010, Riviera Holdings filed for bankruptcy in order to reorganize debt.
TO THE BONEYARD
Shortly after its opening, the Riviera became a go-to destination for music and comedy acts. Liberace was the featured performer for the casino’s grand opening, and appeared there for many years afterward.
When “An Evening at La Cage” closed at the Riviera in 2009, it held the unofficial record for the longest continuous performance run at a single casino in Las Vegas, over 20 years. The show featured numerous female impersonators, including Frank Marino with his impersonation of Joan Rivers.
One of the focal points on the site was a large plaque titled “The History of Entertainment Through the Years at the Riviera.” The plaque listed artists who performed at the historic hotel and casino; it was a virtual Who’s Who of music and comedy acts from the 1950s through the ’90s. Organized alphabetically, it began with the 1960s musical comedy “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” and ended with ’80s actress and singer Pia Zadora. Beside the names were the dates when the acts first performed at the Riv. The plaque had long been a photo op for tourists and hotel guests. The list is long, but the comedy acts include Dean Martin, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart and Jerry Seinfeld. Musicians ranged from The Beach Boys, Elvis, Dolly Parton, The Village People and, of course, Frank Sinatra.
While the Riviera will soon be gone, a few pieces of it are being preserved for posterity. “We’ve had some conversations with the Riviera management about preserving the signs, and we’ve visited the site. Right now though, it isn’t clear which signs or how many will be saved,” said Neon Museum Public Relations and Marketing Director Dawn Merritt.
The Riviera’s signs will most likely be added to the museum’s collection in the Neon Boneyard at 770 Las Vegas Boulevard North.
Once the Riviera is demolished, only two of the original casinos along the Vegas Strip will remain: the Flamingo and Circus Circus.
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