Jeff was kind enough to share some of his thoughts with us here. Continue after the jump to get some good inside info.
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Be sure to stay tuned to EncoreOpening.com this weekend and into the 22nd for the best, most comprehensive coverage.
I thought I'd share a few details from my trip to Encore today for an interview with Steve Wynn.
I usually make arrangements for my own one-on-one interviews with Wynn's executive assistants, but this time I was one of three Sun/In Business staffers invited for separate sit downs with Wynn, along with Rick Velotta and Liz Benston.
I arrived at about 11:50 am for my 12:15 pm interview, valet parking at the Encore Tower Suites entrance. I was met by PR folks and taken to the staging area, the Tower Suites registration room. TV-8's Ed Lawrence was waiting to interview Wynn, and I was to follow Ed. The R-J's Norm Clarke was there and slated to follow me.
The interview took place in the Sinatra restaurant. I met the chef, Theo Schoenegger, former executive chef of Patina in Los Angeles, who was waiting in his new digs, hoping to serve Wynn lunch.
The interview site was in front of one of Sinatra's patio windows, a beautiful setting for a TV shot that placed Wynn in front of lush flowers and other vegetation.
I spent about 30 minutes with Wynn, talking with him about a wide range of subjects, which I'll abbreviate here, focusing on lighter stuff and leaving out news elements I'll save for other media:
• This is the third Wynn hotel I've covered from early planning through construction to opening, and we discussed Wynn's feelings about bringing his babies to life. ("I love it," he said. "I tend to be self critical and ambivalent about opening one of these, but this is the best one we've done, by far.") He also noted that the German Shepard by his side had also opened three hotels, Bellagio, WLV and Encore. I corrected him, noting that I had seen his dogs frolicking in the courtyard next to the café at Wynn Macau at its opening, and Wynn agreed, remembering that he had brought his dogs to that opening as well.
• Wynn said operators should learn from this economic downturn, although he didn't name names (I bet you folks wouldn't have any trouble making a few guesses!). "You can't be master of the universe. You don't borrow money just because you can. You don't buy everything in sight, just because you can."
• Wynn said that the design process is about the customer, not the designer, noting that the XS nightclub and its associated restaurant and pool area is something that was dictated by changes in customer preference, folks who want to be a part of the show instead of merely viewing it. He described the Encore's nightclub vibe as a more upscale, sophisticated version of the younger scenes at Palms and Hard Rock. He sees it as similar to the St. Tropez scene, with that kind of action (Great food and wine, DJ music, poolside and indoors) from midafternoon until 5 am or so). "That's not the kind of thing I would have done 10 to 15 years ago," Wynn said. "We're responding to changing, evolving public tastes."
• Encore will cement the sense of the company as occupying the very top of the business, he believes. Wynn Las Vegas will also benefit by an increased array of options for its guests.
• He said the spa is one of Encore's strongest features. "It has to be seen to be believed," he said. I haven't seen it yet (plan to see it Sunday, along with the top-of-the-tower VIP casino), but I believe him.
I would have saved this for a written piece but Reuters published something similar early today. Wynn said he is no longer going to accept lower occupancy to keep his room rates artificially high. He told his hotel president Andrew Pascal that he wanted near maximum occupancy for the WLV and Encore's combined 4,700+ rooms once Encore is fully on line. "I can set the price," Wynn said. "From the top. I told him (Pascal) 'Fill the rooms.' I set the price in Las Vegas. It's bare-knuckle competition. And so we've lowered our prices and we're getting two thousand reservations a day. Think about what that does. It forces everyone to reset their prices," from Bellagio on down. "I don't like to do that, but I need to look out for these folks, our team."
After our interview, I took a stroll through the main entrance atrium and casino. I loved the trees and light in the atrium and the red chandeliers and abundant sunlight in the casino. There were about five different video productions going on in and around the casino, and a lot of employees using "play chips" as new dealers and dealing crews manned their games.
It's fun to experience the buildup of excitement as a property is getting set to open, all at once. "Opening a property" is an important LV milestone, and Encore folks know they are about to add a significant line to their resumes.
One cool thing. They've saved the former Desert Inn parking garage's "secret tunnel" to Desert Inn Road's eastbound lanes, allowing a speedy exit from the Strip's congestion, which I employed on my exit. It's been about seven or eight years since I've utilized the tunnel, back when Wynn was designing WLV and his office was in the Desert Inn's last building.