SLS hotel on Las Vegas Strip going back to Sahara name

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ The SLS hotel on the Las Vegas Strip is going back to the Sahara name. 

The iconic hotel that dates to 1952 and over the years hosted the Rat Pack, the Jerry Lewis Telethon, the Beatles and a NASCAR cafe came full circle with a Thursday night announcement by new owner Alex Meruelo. 

Paul Hobson, SLS general manager, told the Las Vegas Sun that Meruelo began considering reverting to the original moniker when he acquired the property in April 2018. 

``Sahara is such a recognizable name,'' Hobson said. 

Meruelo spoke to about 700 invited guests, celebrities and hotel employees at an event featuring an elaborate drone light show and fireworks in the hotel's outdoor pool area, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported . 

``The Sahara played an important role in the evolution of the destination,'' Meruelo told the crowd. ``We are writing the next chapter in the city's evolution, for the love of Vegas.'' 

Meruelo took control of SLS in April 2018 for an undisclosed price from a San Francisco-based investment fund, Stockbridge Capital Group. 

He also was approved this month as majority owner of the National Hockey League's Arizona Coyotes. 

The Sahara, which featured a Moroccan onion-dome minaret over its porte-cochere, was known as a hangout for the Rat Pack of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. 

The 14-story hotel-casino sits on the boundary between the city of Las Vegas and the resort-lined tourist corridor, and survived while other aging icons like the Sands, Riviera, Stardust, Landmark and Desert Inn were razed to make way for new developments. 

It has three hotel towers and once was the tallest building on the Las Vegas Strip. It closed as the Sahara in 2011 and its auto racing-themed restaurant and roller coaster were removed. It reopened with more than 1,600 rooms in 2014 as the SLS. 

The name restoration is part of a $150 million renovation of the casino floor, hotel rooms, swimming pool and entertainment venues that hotel officials say could take up to three years. 

``There's a lot pieces and parts that will have to be installed,'' Hobson told the Sun. ``We'll have to, of course, badge the exterior, so we have a massive sign and light project coming that should be done sometime in September or October. Once that's done, we'll start selling the property under the name Sahara.'' 

The SLS brand is owned by Sam Nazarian and SBE Hotel Licensing LLC. 

California-based SBE alleges in a lawsuit filed in Nevada last month that property owner Las Vegas Resort Holdings LLC failed to pay at least $450,000 in fees since November to operate under the SLS brand and operate SBE-brand restaurants within it, including a restaurant by celebrity chef Jose Andres.