Last week's news of the imminent closing of the Sahara Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, while not a shock, generated a wave of nostalgia among many long-term visitors to the city. Although it is old, outdated and grimy, the property on the north end of the Strip is a reminder of the anything-goes, Rat Pack era that was long ago supplanted by Corporate Las Vegas.
It may be sad for some, but the closing reinforces one sure bet in a town built on gambling: Las Vegas always has a way of regenerating itself, even during the worst of times, such as it has seen in the past couple of years. For decades, Las Vegas lived up to its Sin City moniker before morphing into a Disney World for adults, followed by a brief (and unsuccessful) flirtation with the family market. In recent years, the slogan has been bigger is better, with properties like the MGM Grand and Mirage giving way to the Bellagio and Venetian, then City Center and now the Cosmopolitan, as symbols of greater and greater excess. Now, the city seems more willing to rely on the convention crowd than high rollers to keep its rooms, restaurants, gaming floors and strip clubs full and busy.
Every building boom of the past was accompanied by pundits who declared the city to be permanently overbuilt and in deep trouble. Each time, the market was somehow able to increase the size of the pie by attracting more visitors each year. Further mega-casino development will probably be on hold for a number of years, so the city should be able to again catch its breath and rebuild its base of business. But I won't be surprised to see another wave of big-box hotels go under construction before the end of the decade.
Like no other city in the U.S., Las Vegas thrives on rebirth. When one part of the city or marketplace declines, decays and withers, another takes its place and grows taller, stronger and more successful. Here's hoping that dynamic never changes.