Monday, August 24, 2020 / by Ken Couture
The owners of Virgin Hotels Las Vegas are having second thoughts about the scheduled fall opening after the coronavirus pandemic devastated the economy.
Richard “Boz” Bosworth, president and CEO of the off-Strip hotel-casino, said in a news release Friday that construction work at the former Hard Rock Hotel “remains on schedule” and that the operations team expects “to receive the keys to the property in early November.”
However, he added, the ownership group is “carefully evaluating” Virgin’s previously announced opening date because of pandemic-related regulations, “market conditions” and recent event and convention cancellations.
They expect “to have a date identified by mid-September,” at which point they will “provide full details,” he added.
“The crystal ball is cloudy at best right now,” he told the Review-Journal.
The potential delayed debut comes as Las Vegas’ tourism industry — the lifeblood of the local economy — struggles to recover from the still-raging pandemic, which has kept people home and away from big crowds for fear of getting infected.
Bosworth, who has said the Hard Rock’s overhaul into a Virgin-branded resort would cost more than $200 million, told the Review-Journal he realized in the past two weeks he might have to delay the opening based, in part, on his own experience going to hotels and seeing what’s available amid the pandemic.
If Virgin debuted today, he said, its 4,800-seat theater would hold a fraction of its capacity, the resort could not offer valet parking, and its restaurants and bars would have to limit their capacity as well.
He said the pandemic has not affected the property’s design, but the owners plan to implement such health and safety measures as thermal temperature readings for people who enter the property, keyless entry to guest rooms, and possibly birdcage-like pods for people during outdoor events to ensure social distancing.
Bosworth and other investors, including flamboyant British billionaire Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group conglomerate, acquired the 1,500-room Hard Rock in spring 2018 for about $500 million.
Branson and Bosworth announced the deal at a party-like news conference at the hotel, which featured a DJ playing thumping music and swimsuit-clad women dancing on platforms in the pool.
After a farewell party weekend, the new owners closed the Hard Rock in early February this year for its Virgin transformation. The next month, Las Vegas rapidly shut down over fears of the new coronavirus, and today, the badly battered tourism industry faces plenty of unknowns.
About 1.1 million people visited Las Vegas in June, down 70.5 percent from the same month last year, and there were no convention attendees, compared to 514,000 in June 2019, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority reported.
Moreover, several casinos remain closed in Southern Nevada, despite being allowed to reopen in early June following more than two months on state-ordered lockdown.
Bosworth noted that hotel mortgage delinquencies have soared in the U.S. and that the entire industry has been affected by the crisis.
“It’s an industry tragedy, and incredibly sad and scary,” Bosworth said.
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