Tropicana reborn: Historic hotel gets an extreme makeover

The usual solution for a Las Vegas hotel that is past its prime is to implode it, start over from scratch and create a bigger and better property to take its place.Trop-@-Dusk

When the Tropicana hotel was taken over by the Onex Corporation (led by former MGM Mirage executive Alex Yemenidjian) in 2009, the company decided to go against the norm and preserve one of the few 1950s Las Vegas Strip hotels still standing by choosing to remodel instead of demolish the property.

“The Tropicana has a pretty storied history and there’s a lot to that in terms of recognition and we knew we wanted to keep a touch of the past in terms of the brand name,” said Arik Knowles, vice president of hotel operations for the Tropicana.

“Also the timing was interesting because you had CityCenter coming to an end, you had Fontainebleau and the Echelon projects come to a halt and a lot of other projects were coming to completion or ending, and so for us, we found it was an opportune time to do a remodel because there was a lot of availability for contractors, subcontractors, designers – the whole development world. We call it smart development – it made sense for timing and it made sense for an ROI (return on investment),” said Knowles.

The Tropicana Hotel has been a fixture on the Strip since it opened on April 4, 1957.  It was a first-class property with 300 rooms, an Olympic-size pool, lush landscaping and nicknamed the “Tiffany of the Strip” by the Saturday Evening Post in reference to the property’s elegance.

The hotel was revamped several times over the years. In 1959, an additional 150-room wing was added. In 1962, a 116-room wing was added and in 1978 the 600-room Tiffany (now Paradise) Tower opened. Ramada Inns, Inc. acquired the property in 1979 and in 1985, the resort converted to “The Island of Las Vegas” theme, adding the 22-story Island Tower. The hotel’s rooms were freshened up in 1998-1999, but the property hasn’t been updated since then.

It was definitely time for a makeover and Knowles said the goal of the renovation project is not to completely do away with the Tropicana’s image, but to improve upon the existing product and create “best in class” rooms.

“We’re not trying to compete in the luxury market. We’re not trying to be Wynn, we’re not trying to be the Bellagio. The Tropicana for a long time competed in what I call the ‘C’ level category of hotels. We originally thought we’d be at the top of the ‘C’ level when the renovation was complete, but we’re seeing very quickly – because a lot of these ‘B’ level hotels haven’t been remodeled in a long time – that we can compete with the ‘B’ level. That middle market is a very big market here in Las Vegas and we think that we can compete with the top of the ‘B’ market and so that, combined with a Four Diamond rating from AAA are our main goals.”

The slogan you’ll see posted everywhere around the Tropicana these days is “We’re changing everything” and it’s not an exaggeration. Areas that have already been remodeled or are scheduled for updating include the guest rooms, pool, sports book, spa, convention center, casino and restaurants. The property is converting to a South Beach style with décor that features white marble, shutters and lots of plants and palms.


The remodeled Paradise room at the Tropicana

Knowles said the big change Tropicana guests will enjoy is the new rooms. “Our room product is the newest room product in that ‘B’ category and competes with the best of them. Our beds are brand new – pretty much every single thing in the rooms is brand new. We say all the time we have good bones. The hotel had good bones, it just needed a facelift and that’s what we’re doing in the rooms.”

The hotel’s new Paradise Tower rooms, which opened in April, feature 42-inch flat panel TVs luxury bedding, iPod docks and plantation shutters on the windows.

Construction is continuing on the Island Tower rooms (scheduled for completion in September), which are much like the Paradise Tower rooms, but are geared toward convention goers who visit the resort’s revamped 110,000-square-foot convention space.

“The Island Tower sits on top of the convention center so it’s geared more toward a conference center/convention client because of ease of access and location, so we made one design change in there where we put a desk unit that comes out from the TV dresser area and adds more space for a convention person to spread out and have more workspace,” said Knowles.


Swim-up blackjack at the Tropicana pool

Next to the guest rooms, Knowles said the resort’s new pool area is the highlight of the refurbishing project.

“It’s not a concrete hole in the ground like most of our competitors, it’s very lush, very resort feeling. A lot of our customers now that come here and see the renovation are saying that it feels more like coming to a resort destination rather than to Las Vegas,” said Knowles.

The first phase of the pool project was unveiled in May and features an expansive pool deck with lush landscaping, waterfalls, swim-up blackjack tables and cabanas.

Phase two of the pool development will be the addition of the Nikki Beach complex slated for spring 2011.

The new Las Vegas location will be the largest Nikki Beach property in the world. The opulent beach club will feature loungers, opium beds and cabanas, complete with bottle service and hors d’oeuvres. Nikki Beach will include a restaurant, outdoor cafe and bar and a private island in the center of the tropical pool.

Along with Nikki Beach will come a new nightlife offering at the Tropicana — Club Nikki, a 15,000-square-foot nightclub decorated in an elegant all-white color scheme. Club Nikki will feature interactive entertainment such as “champagne muses” and world-renowned DJs dueling on each side of the dance floor.

While the Nikki Beach complex won’t be ready until 2011, there are many more changes scheduled for completion by the end of this year. The Tropicana will open a new poker room and a new race and sports book operated by Cantor Gaming, which will include mobile gaming and skyboxes.

Also by the end of the year, a new restaurant and updated bars will open at the hotel. One of the highlights will be Ambhar, located in the main casino area, which will feature cocktails crafted with Ambahr Platinum tequila.

The Tropicana was home to the storied “Folies Bergere” production show for many years and Knowles said the hotel is looking at new options for entertainment with the goal of renovating the theater and having a show in by early next year. For now, guests can enjoy a new comedy club from actor and comedian Brad Garrett.

Brad Garrett has opened a comedy club at the Tropicana

Brad Garrett has opened a comedy club at the Tropicana

“Tropicana was the perfect home for me because we’re trying to build what Vegas used to be, make it all about the customer,” Garrett said. “I think the older Vegas, it was really all about the customer and the clientele and making them feel that the hotel will go the extra mile for you.”

The hotel is also opening the Mob Experience exhibit in December, a large collection of authentic artifacts, memorabilia, photos and videos about organized crime.

Although most of the changes are on the interior, customers will also notice an overhaul on the outside of the Tropicana. The porte cochere, valet and check-in have all been redone.

“The entrance is new with white marble steps and the ceiling is very, very Miami, it’s very, very South Beach in that sort of art deco look and feel — basically it’s all white and very cleaned up,” said Knowles.

He said in addition to the aesthetic improvements at the property, a focus on customer service is a priority at the new Tropicana.

“The fixing of the neglect of the building, the physical part of it, to us is actually the easiest part — you design it, you pay someone to come in and create it for you. The service culture is actually our biggest focus. We actually have a service culture team that we’ve put into place that has been working with the team members to change the idea of what a visit in Las Vegas is,” he said. “So, we jokingly — but not really jokingly — say that we’re a boutique, because when all is said and done, we have 1,658 rooms on the Strip. All of our competitors have more and we’re able to engage the customers in ways that they wish they could.”

Knowles said the biggest hurdle the hotel has faced with its facelift is that some people didn’t want the hotel to change. “There are a few people who liked the Tropicana how it was and when those people come to see it, we change their minds,” he said.

“There was one customer we were talking to in the valet — we happened to catch her and she’d been coming to the Tropicana for 15 years and she was sort of unimpressed with what she saw so far because we were under construction. So we walked with her into the front door — and it was a week after we got the new pit carpet, the new tables in and the walkway was complete — and she just kind of stood there for awhile looking at it and I wasn’t sure what she was going to say but she goes, ‘okay, I get it now.’”

Knowles said the idea of what the Tropicana is in people’s minds and actually seeing it are two completely different things.

“Our goal is to get people to come see what it looks like so they can change their mind about what they feel when they hear the name Tropicana.”


It’s not that warm in Minnesota. I know this from spending half my life freezing in the northern part of the state. So 20 years ago, I decided to thaw out and traded in scarves and mittens for tank tops and flip-flops (Take that, polar vortex!). I swapped snow for 300 days of sun a year. I may not have been born here, but there are hotels that haven’t lasted in Vegas as long as I have. The Sands, Hacienda, Aladdin, Desert Inn and the Stardust too. I've been to my fair share of implosion parties. (Yeah, that’s a thing.) As a writer for, I've applauded hundreds of shows, explored every major hotel in town and raised a few glasses at most of the city's bars and clubs. Now I'm the resident foodie here. I write about all things dining — from $3.99 shrimp cocktail at the Golden Gate to the finest sushi at Nobu, and everything in between.

There is 1 comment for this article
  1. Mike Wren at 8:40 pm

    Been going there forever, through the good and bad. Just got back from 5 days there and were very pleasantly surprised. The place looks great. Brighter and cleaner but with the old Vegas feel still evident. They are just taking what was good with the old and bringing it into the 21st century. Great service, nice rooms and the food at Bacio made my Sicilian wife and I smile. Can’t wait to see the finished product.