In a flashy ceremony befitting his unorthodox, rebel-like style, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson announced Friday that his company has agreed to acquire the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The proclamation was made at an outdoor pool lounge at the Hard Rock, complete with blasting music and dancing, swimming suit-clad women. Once the remodeling is completed – not expected until late next year – the hotel will be rebranded Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.
On the Virgin website, Branson wrote:
When I’ve come to Vegas over the years my favourite casino has been the Hard Rock. It’s great to walk around and see memorabilia of Johnny Rotten, the Rolling Stones, Bowie and other Virgin bands plastered on the walls. It’s got delightful and dedicated people working there and it has beautiful outdoor swimming pool areas and beautiful rooms but through lack of investment it’s slightly tired. So I’m really proud today to announce Virgin Hotels has bought the Hard Rock Hotel and we’ll be bringing it back to its old glory again under the Virgin brand.
Though Forbes estimates Branson’s net worth as upwards of $5 billion, he did not go into this deal alone. Branson and Virgin partnered with Bosworth Hospitality Partners, whose founder, Richard “Boz” Bosworth will be the hotel’s CEO, Toronto real estate firm Fengate Capital Management, and Los Angeles investment firm Juniper Capital Partners.
Branson did not reveal any of the financial figures, saying, “We’re not going to make this a boring business talk. But I’m sure somebody can let you know some other time.”
He did tell the Las Vegas Review-Journal that by acquiring a property off the strip – the Hard Rock is on Paradise Road, about a mile east of Las Vegas Boulevard – he and his partners avoided paying the premium that an on-Strip casino would command. That discount will help them put more money into the property, as they plan to spend, “hundreds of millions in transforming” it.
Part of that transformation will unfortunately be taking down the iconic, giant, illuminated guitar symbolic of the Hard Rock. Branson said that Virgin does have a “giant V” that is “sort of guitar-shaped” that may replace it.
Branson added that not only does an off-strip property not cost as much as one on the Strip, but it is also the type of property he and Virgin prefer in this case. The team wanted something “a little bit smaller, a little bit more boutique,” as opposed to “some glass tower on the Strip.”
He is confident that locals and visitors alike will be proud of what Virgin will do with the Hard Rock, that “we know how to design things, to bring some magic back to it.”
Branson also noted that the hotel and casino isn’t “far out of the way,” which is absolutely true. Las Vega tourists tend to feel like they need to stay on the Strip (and for good reason – it’s convenient and the properties are pretty amazing), but there are plenty off-Strip properties that are quite nice and more affordable with little drop in convenience.
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