Sahara Las Vegas Returns to North Strip as City Bids Goodbye to SLS and Sam by Starck

Posted on: August 29, 2019, 08:30h. 

Last updated on: August 31, 2019, 01:26h.

On Thursday, SLS officially reverted to The Sahara Las Vegas, the iconic brand that evokes Rat Pack-era hipness. The north Strip property is in the midst of a $150 million rebranding that will allow it to reconnect with its past, as well as with a Las Vegas audience for whom the name “SLS” didn’t really evoke anything at all.

Sahara Las Vegas
Sam by Starck may not have been to everyone’s tastes, but some felt it at least deserved the chance to live out its retirement in the Neon Museum as a monument to conceptual failure. (Image: LVRJ)

But the Sahara’s retro-renovations meant it was curtain’s for “Sam by Starck,” the 32-foot abstract blob man that has graced the property’s forecourt for the past six years, a homage by hotel designer Philippe Starck to his friend, Sam Nazarian, the property’s former owner.

As a piece of art, Sam by Starck probably mystified more people than it delighted — and some mocked it outright, comparing it unfavorably to the Pillsbury Doughboy. But not everyone was happy about the manner of its demise.

Sam was smashed to pieces by cranes on Tuesday.

So Long, Sam

Love it or hate it, Sam by Starck was a public artwork that some felt should have been preserved for posterity in the Neon Museum, which is where most discarded Las Vegas memorabilia ends up.

“So an original work of art by renowned designer #PhilippeStarck was destroyed with no thought of donating it to the @NeonMuseum @UNLVMuseum or future #LasVegas Art Museum? Tisk Tisk @SLSLasVegas,” former curator at the Neon Museum Brian Alzarez wrote on Twitter.

But a Sahara PR rep told The Las Vegas Review-Journal that because the statue was built in place, in pieces, preservation was “near impossible.”

The construction team reviewed plans and researched removal and decided that destruction was the only option, added the rep.

North Strip Renaissance?

The Sahara became SLS in 2013 after Nazarian remodeled the property, having acquired it back in 2007. SLS stood for “style, luxury and service,” Nazarian explained. But the sleek, modern concept failed to connect with both locals and visitors.

While the Sahara had for years stood at the “entrance” to the Strip, the SLS reopened in post-recession Las Vegas surrounded by half-finished projects that had been abandoned during the economic downturn. The north Strip suffered from a lack of footfall, and SLS was bleeding money.

Today, there’s a new sense of optimism about the north Strip, which is shared by the Sahara’s new owner, the Meruelo Group.

The abandoned Fontainebleau project is currently being transformed into the Drew Las Vegas, while Resorts World Las Vegas promises to entice visitors back to the area when it opens at the end of 2020.

But the Sahara will have something these new properties cannot readily acquire: history.

“There is a lot of nostalgia for the older Las Vegas,” UNLV associate professor of history Michael Green told LVRJ this week. “Younger demographics like the idea of the old Las Vegas with new amenities.”

“The Sahara brand meant something a while back,” he added. “(It could) mean something again.”