Ormsby House will close for a five-star remodel

Ormsby House officials Thursday afternoon told employees they will be laid off by Thanksgiving while the hotel/casino is shut down for an estimated nine months for massive renovations affecting every square inch of the 10-story structure.

Employees were given 60-day layoff notices in accordance with the federal WARN Act, which requires large employers to give a two-month notice before imposing mass layoffs.

Owners Al Fiegehen and Don Lehr will close the Ormsby House in the second half of November with hopes to open a five-star hotel by the Fourth of July.

Lehr shudders at the word "close." He prefers "suspension of operation."

Either way, a large number of the 231 employees will not have jobs by mid-November, but Fiegehen said he has already called other local casinos to let them know a flood of employees is available.

Lehr and Fiegehen have learned there are 800 job openings in Carson City so they are confident most of the Ormsby House employees should be able to find new jobs.

"The Costco manager will be smiling from ear to ear when he sees this in the paper," Lehr said.

A skeleton crew of essential employees in fields such as security and maintenance will stay on the payroll through the closure, they said.

"As hard as it is to lay people off, this is the best time with the labor shortage in Carson City," Fiegehen said. "We probably could have hung on until Christmas but turning the employees out in January would be awful."

The Ormsby House, with 200 rooms, is the largest hotel in Carson City.

This will be the second Ormsby House closure in seven years. The hotel/casino was closed from January 1993 to February 1995 during the property's first bankruptcy proceeding.

Fiegehen and Lehr acquired the Ormsby House in September 1999 putting a close the property's second bankruptcy. The second closure - suspension of operations - is for positive reasons, the partners stress.

Fiegehen and Lehr originally expected to undertake the $10 million renovation without closing the hotel and having an expanded casino and new entrances ready by summer.

Then they hammered away at walls and found one nightmare after another.

They got snarled in an undecipherable maze of electrical wiring. Plumbing either leaked or was bound to leak sooner or later. Valves to turn off the water to cooling systems were plastered behind walls.

"The magnitude of what needs to be done is of such a magnitude that it can't be done while it's open," Fiegehen said.

The partners promise a complete overhaul inside and out. The bland exterior will get "modern classic" architectural touches from roof to street. The wall nearest Carson Street will move back 15 feet and a smaller porte cochere will frame the new entrance.

Inside, the casino will stretch from Fifth and Carson streets (where the Corner Bar will be rebuilt) to the south entrance, where the Ormsby House will get its first proper hotel lobby and registration desk.

Dominique's Supper Club will move to the second floor and the never-finished convention area that has hosted the Haunted House in recent years will become a live theater much like the theater at the Eldorado in Reno.

"We will be doing a hotel to five-star hotel standards," Fiegehen said. "It will be done as if it were a Hyatt or Four Seasons. That is the extent we're going to bring this to. This will be the best hotel in Northern Nevada."

Architectural designs are being done by Barry Thalden, of Thalden Corp., an architectural firm with offices around the country and in Las Vegas. Shaw Construction of Carson City will be the main contractor.

General manager Bob Cashell, a former Nevada lieutenant governor, has specialized in turning around failing casinos.

"This is the eighth one I've taken on," Cashell said."This is the first one to do a thorough job the way it should be done."

Just this week, the partners sent Thalden away with six pages of design changes.

"These guys have spent so much time studying and looking it over," Cashell said. "They could've come in and put in band-aids but that's not what they've elected to do."

Once again Lehr shuddered.

"Every refurbishment since 1973 has been carpet and paint," Lehr said.

The Ormsby House tells two contrary stories when looking at structure and infrastructure. The partners rejected demolishing the building because a replacement would cost far more.

It's the guts that need work, not the body, they said.

"The basic structure is really good," Fiegehen said. "It would be a bitch to take down. It would not come down like the Mapes."

Coincidentally, Fiegehen and Lehr first announced the remodel in January just hours after the Mapes implosion in Reno. Work has been under way since, nearly all of it out of public view.


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