GSR works on $25 million in upgrades

This isn't your parent's MGM.

In discussing the extent of renovations at the Grand Sierra Resort, Reno's largest hotel property at 2,000 rooms, it's easier to list what hasn't been upgraded the theater, box office ticket counter and sports book area than what has.

New owners the Meruelo Group have sunk more than $25 million into the GSR to bring the hotel at Mill and East Second streets up to today's standards and recapture market share lost to competing top-tier hotel-casino properties in the area. Mereulo Group, headed by Alex Meruelo, took over ownership of the Grand Sierra in April of 2011.

The Grand Sierra is hosting a re-launch of the property Saturday. Most public areas of the hotel-casino, which originally opened in 1978 as the MGM Grand Reno, received extensive modernization. Among the changes:

* Upgrades to the lobby, bell desk and check-in counters with new countertops, wall treatments, lighting and marble flooring

* Expansion and upgrades to the poker room

* Addition of WET ultra lounge and upgrades to the Crystal Bar

* Upgrading the high-limit slot and table area

* New carpet throughout the casino floor

* Addition of a VIP check-in area and separate VIP lounge

* Remodel of the cashier cage and players club counter

* Addition of LCD TVs in the casino pit, along with new ceiling treatments and lighting and paint to brighten the entire area

* Addition of The Cantina, a Mexican-themed restaurant, and revamping the Lodge Buffet, which will be rebranded as Elements.

All of the premium suites at the property have been upgraded as well, as were hallways other public areas. A concierge's lounge was added to the 25th floor.

Dan Uonites, vice president of marketing, says many of the changes were brought about by interaction with and comments about the property from casino patrons.

"As you looked at the property, it was somewhat dark. It definitely needed to give a more modern feel, and a better and brighter look," Uonites says. "One of the things we had learned from our customers, when you walked in, it did give that older, needed to be remodeled and upgraded feel.

"Now, as you walk through the property, the changes we have made kind of fit that bill of what our customers want. It has that 'Wow!' factor."

Construction efforts at the Grand Sierra are reminiscent of roadwork on the Spaghetti Bowl: almost continuous.

The property underwent a large-scale initial remodel starting in 2006 when GSR Corp. took over the property from Caesars Entertainment. Among the changes were the renovations to the casino floor, and the addition of Charlie Palmer's Steak, Fin Fish and Nikki Beach nightclub at poolside (the last two concepts have since departed).

Changes still in the works are the repositioning of the casino sports book into the space formerly occupied by Xtreme Sports Bar and the tournament slot area. An additional phase of renovation includes remodeling the remainder of the property's standard rooms with new furniture, wall treatments and other fixtures and furnishings, along with all the public corridors and hallways. Work will begin in December and continue through the first quarter of 2013.

"We have taken ourselves to a new level and have given the customers what they are looking for," Uonites says. "It is a great new product and a new experience. The 'grand' is back with the look of the casino floor and the new gaming product, and the energy that these renovations have created throughout the property. That has given us an advantage, and that is what is going to keep us on top."

There is still some private ownership of condo units at the GSR, but the property has re-purchased many of the rooms, Uonites says. Four upper-level floors were converted to condominiums during the real estate boom, but most buyers either walked away from ownership or lost their properties through foreclosure.


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