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[Weekly Q&A]

D owner talks new Vegas icons and bringing Detroit to Fremont Street

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Photo: Adam Shane

While the spotlight shines on Fremont East, Derek Stevens has been working under the Fremont Street Experience canopy. Along with his brother and casino co-owner Greg, Stevens has refreshed and reloaded two prominent Downtown properties—the Golden Gate and the D, which was known as Fitzgeralds before the brothers bought it in 2011.

As the D prepared to celebrate its “second annual grand opening,” the Weekly spoke with Derek Stevens about SlotZilla, the Detroit spirit and how the casino fits into the big Downtown picture.

The D is going big for this first anniversary, including concerts by Kid Rock and Stone Temple Pilots. A year ago we brought in some entertainment, Bret Michaels and One Republic, and that was an opportunity to celebrate a lot of the change that had taken place. We purchased it in October 2011 and then had a year’s worth of construction and renovation and disruption. That weekend last year was such a great weekend. So we thought, why not have a second annual grand opening?

Now that the property is where you want it to be, what are some of your favorite parts of the D? It’s a pretty diverse place now. The first floor has a lot of energy, and I’m really happy with how Longbar has played out. I feel great about Joe Vicari’s Andiamo Italian Steakhouse, and I’m not afraid to say I think it’s the best steakhouse in all of Las Vegas, a real gem we’ve brought Downtown. And the way we designed the Vintage Vegas second floor, with different music and some older, more vintage slot machines, is working out real well.

Those are things anybody can go check out, but one of the things behind the scenes I’m most proud of is that when we renovated all 34 stories, every room and suite, we did it completely with furniture manufactured in the United States. For some pieces, we even found a manufacturer here in Las Vegas. That means a lot to me, maybe because of my Detroit roots.

Creating a Detroit-themed casino in Downtown Las Vegas is something of an unorthodox approach. Well, we tried to see a newer, more vibrant Downtown occurring on a daily basis, and we tried to approach the renovation thinking about what Downtown would look like three years from now. I’m pretty happy with how it’s developed. Anytime you announce something, you’re going to have critics, whether it’s with your name or theme or whatever. We were always going to do our own thing. And it was a completely different process than at Golden Gate, where we’re focused on maintaining history.

The next big change on your part of Fremont Street appears to be SlotZilla, the huge zipline attraction. How will that affect your business? This is going to be as iconic as anything in Las Vegas. I don’t want to overstate it, but that was the goal, and it’s going to be a monstrous home run for Downtown. It’s such a game-changer. I’m really excited about how it’s evolved and what it’ll look like when it’s finished.

It’s going up right where the Fremont Street Experience turns into Fremont East, very close to the D. Are you seeing a lot of crossover in that area, with locals and tourists crossing Las Vegas Boulevard to experience both sides? We’re seeing crossover both ways. Look at that intersection any Friday or Saturday night and you’ll see how many people are making that move. It’s tremendous. A lot of guests that are booking rooms with us like to go to Commonwealth and La Comida and Le Thai, and a lot of regulars on Fremont East like to come gamble with us. We’re better off with each other.

When you look at what’s happening Downtown, what’s the most exciting development for you? I would say the combination of all these different things taking place in the same area is the most exciting part. La Comida has been a great addition to Downtown. What Chris [LaPorte] has done at Insert Coin(s) is terrific. Obviously Zappos is always in the news, and soon you’ve got the Downtown Grand coming. We’re rooting for Seth [Schorr] and his team to get the ball rolling with that. You can’t say it’s any one thing, it’s really the combination.

Are you planning any more changes to the D soon? We’ve been renovating for 22 months now. What I’m looking forward to most is operating the company. Anybody that has known me for a long period of time knows I’m relentlessly focused on continuous improvement, so I’m never done.

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Brock Radke is Las Vegas Weekly's food editor and author of the Strip-focused column The Incidental Tourist. He has written ...

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