Ormsby House starts major overhaul of casino and hotel

By the time the new owners of the Ormsby House get done pumping millions of dollars into every square foot of the hotel-casino, the Grand Old Lady will emerge as an all-new gaming resort.

Partners Al Fiegehen and Don Lehr, who bought the ailing Ormsby House in September, promise a much bigger casino, three new restaurants, a new main entrance and many more improvements.

They intend to transform the 200 rooms into five-star quality, no kidding.

"The rooms will all be remodeled this year," Lehr said. "There's no reason we can't go after a top-line flag this year."

By top line, Lehr means Hyatt or Hilton or Marriott or Four Seasons.

Fiegehen likes the ring of Hyatt Ormsby House. General manager Bob Cashell tested out the sound of the Hyatt at the Ormsby House in the Capital City.

"It will be a first-class hotel for Carson City," Fiegehen said. "It will be the best hotel in Northern Nevada."

Cashell will start courting top name hotel chains in the coming months as all 200 rooms get a complete overhaul. He hopes to have 60 to 70 percent of them fully refurbished by the time the Nevada Republican Party convention checks in for Memorial Day weekend.

"This hotel will be a brand new hotel," Cashell said. "This hotel will rate second to none in Reno or Tahoe. I've never seen two guys who want to get into it like this."

Fiegehen and Lehr expect to spend upward of $10 million to knock down many ground floor walls and give the entire building new plumbing, electrical wiring and sewage. They are also putting in a generator system to keep the lights on during power outages, such as the midnight outage that hit the Ormsby House New Year's Eve as a balloon hit a power line.

Elevators will be replaced and an escalator to the second floor will be built behind the elevators. The escalators will lead to a covered bridge linking hotel and parking structure.

"You want to fix the rooms and downstairs to it looks good, but you don't want to do it so it doesn't function well," Lehr said.

Work starts today with the removal of the arcade games on the Curry Street side to get the area ready for a new 150-seat coffee shop that Cashell hopes to open by April 1. Old timers will remember that as the original location of the coffee shop until the mid-1980s.

"It was the most popular coffee shop in Carson City," Fiegehen said. "We're trying to put the good things back to where they used to be."

Also today, demolition starts in the former Old Corner Bar, which closed in May. This marks the first phase to expand the casino all the way to the Fifth and Carson streets corner.

Most of the interior walls in the building's northeast corner will come down to make way for new casino area. The casino will grow from 17,000 square feet to 25,000 to 30,000 square feet.

This will allow the number of gaming machines to grow from 280 to 350, at first, with enough room for more than 600 slots, Cashell said.

Most obvious to the casual observer, the four tall columns and porte-cochere on Carson Street will be torn down some time in February as a new four-lane porte-cochere is built on the hotel-casino's south side.

Fiegehen and Lehr will replace the columns and portico with a smaller and lower version built closer to the wall.

The south entrance will become the main entrance to the hotel-casino with a hotel desk just beyond the four or five double doors.

"It will be more like going into the Hilton in Reno," Fiegehen said.

Lehr fixated on the new entrance at the other end, where the Old Corner Bar was.

"We're going to fix this corner proper. You'll be able to see plum through the casino from the corner to the main entrance," Lehr said.

The partners want the expanded casino and new entrances ready this summer. The full renovation could take one to two years, mainly because business will continue at the Ormsby House.

"It would be easier to close but that would piss off a lot of people," Lehr said.

Even before visible work starts, Fiegehen and Lehr have already fielded offers from potential buyers for a hotel-casino that barely attracted any buyer attention in its two years in bankruptcy and foreclosure from 1997 to 1999.

The partners, also owners of Cubix Corp. in Carson City, speak plainly about their intentions with the Ormsby House.

"As we've said all along, it's a long-term investment," Fiegehen said.

Lehr added, "We've had people not understand the words 'not for sale.'"

Restaurants will swap locations in the course of the project. Dominique's will move upstairs into the location where the Curry Street Buffet was until closing in April. The 250-or-so-seat buffet will move into the spot currently filled by the V&T Coffee Shop.

The hotel and casino will remain open throughout the remodel. Dominique's will also serve dinner continually and at some time will close downstairs one day and reopen the next on the second floor.

This remodel is a work in progress. Many details still need to be worked out, including the total cost.

"If we can keep it under $10 million, we'll be happy," Fiegehen said.


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