Grand Sierra Resort announces $1 billion project

A rendering of Grand Sierra Resort’s proposed sports stadium and concert venue, 800-room hotel tower, aqua golf facility, and 300-unit workforce housing complex.

A rendering of Grand Sierra Resort’s proposed sports stadium and concert venue, 800-room hotel tower, aqua golf facility, and 300-unit workforce housing complex.

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The transformative investments at Grand Sierra Resort will continue over the next decade with the addition of a state-of-the-art sports stadium and concert venue, 800-room hotel tower, aqua golf facility, and 300-unit workforce housing complex, company executives announced Wednesday.

GSR owner Alex Meruelo, who also owns Sahara at the north end of the Las Vegas Strip, has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars repositioning and upgrading Grand Sierra Resort, which he bought in 2011 for a mere $42 million. Meruelo’s latest investment is expected to tally approximately $1 billion, though — the largest private capital investment ever in the City of Reno.

“It’s a dream come true,” Meruelo told an assembly of Reno business leaders, community dignitaries, university and city government officials, and Reno-Sparks Indian Colony tribal members during a packed press event at Lex Nightclub. “I’ve thought about this for many years. … Nothing has ever been done like this before. It will be the first of its kind, and it will happen right here in Reno.”

Andrew Diss, chief strategy officer for Meruelo Gaming, gave NNBW a breakdown of Meruelo’s ambitious investment plans in order of their planned development:

Sports Stadium

The 10,000-seat sports stadium will be the new home of the University of Nevada, Reno men’s basketball team. It also meets criteria to host first- and second-round games of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Diss said.

More importantly, perhaps, it replaces the aging Lawlor Events Center, which was constructed in 1983 – back when current university President Brian Sandoval was a student at the college. The approximately $300 million facility also could prove to be a powerful recruiting tool for Nevada men’s basketball coach Steve Alford.

“It’s the next chapter in Wolf Pack basketball history for this university,” Sandoval said. “It’s time for us to play in an environment that will be as good or better than anywhere in the country, and it will be a chance for our fans to have an experience that’s unlike anything else.

“I don’t know how many games I’ve sat through in Lawlor, and I’ve loved every single one of them,” Sandoval continued. “We love Lawlor – it’s like loving your mom and dad’s house. But now there is an opportunity to elevate our program and our university and put us on a stage that gives us equality to any (basketball) program in America.”

The venue also will host events such as boxing and mixed martial arts, as well as A-list music performers, Diss said.

Noted Los Angeles-based architectural firm Gensler is the main architect for the stadium project. Gensler has designed several popular sports stadiums, including a collaboration on Chase Center in San Francisco (new home of the Golden State Warriors) and Moody Center on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.

Underground Parking Garage

Many of the GSR’s massive surface-level parking lots will be replaced by structures, so parking will be moved underground. Diss said there will be multiple levels of underground parking between the resort’s lake and the new sports arena. The total number of parking spaces has yet to be finalized.

Cost is expected to run between $70 million and $80 million for the underground parking structure, Diss said.

Aqua Golf, Lake Promenade and Water Fountains

After years of fighting ferocious Northern Nevada winds, aqua golf center patrons will have the wind at their backs in a completely reconfigured facility.

A three-story structure will be built on the west end of the lake and feature 25 driving spaces at ground level and 25 more on the second floor. The third story will house food and beverage and kitchen support operations.

“We’ve seen the success of Topgolf, Flying Tee and other companies that are doing similar concepts,” Diss said. “It will be a very unique experience. We’ll have heat lamps so you can play in the wintertime, and we are (re)positioning it (because) we all know which way the wind blows in this community. Everyone is going to look like John Daly hitting 400-yard drives out there.”

The site of the existing aqua golf facility, meanwhile, will be turned into a promenade featuring a Bellagio-style water fountain experience. The promenade area eventually will include dining options, Diss said.

“When people go to the Bellagio, the reason some of those restaurants are the nicest in Las Vegas is because of the views of those fountains and that lake. That’s exactly what we will have here in Reno,” he said.

Costs for this part of the project are still being calculated, he added.

New Hotel Tower

The only thing in Meruelo’s sweeping development plan that’s a question mark is the new tower, Diss said.

“We are contemplating six or seven years down the road, and if the economics make sense at that time and everything else we’ve built is up and firing, then we will add that 800-room tower,” he said.

The tower would be approximately the same height as the existing 27-floor tower, Diss added.

While Meruelo’s investments in the GSR have been transformative, they still are upgrades to a property that was built in the late 1970s. Starting with a blank slate and constructing a new hotel tower allows the company to orient the building’s glass facade to take in the breathtaking views of Mt. Rose and the Sierra, as well as the lake and fountains, Diss said.

Workforce Housing

The RV park at Grand Sierra will be transformed into a workforce housing complex. GSR employees will get first crack at housing units, Diss told NNBW. Rents will be either subsidized for GSR team members or set at an affordable rate, he added.

The 300-unit project will likely feature three-story condo-style buildings with drive-up parking.

“It will be really nice with the Truckee River on one side and the lake on the other,” Diss said. “I think there will be a lot of demand for it.

“It will give our team members a strong incentive to stick with us,” he added. “This is the gaming industry – we have high turnover; it’s the nature of the business.  But if somebody is living here and working for us, they are much more likely to keep working for us for a long time.”

The project likely will cost several hundred million dollars, he added.

Funding and Development Timeline

Funding for the various projects would likely come from a spate of investors, Diss told NNBW. Multiple investment firms have shown interest in taking an equity stake of the basketball stadium, he said.

“This arena will not cost the university one dollar,” Meruelo said.

GSR plans to break ground in late summer or early fall of next year on the first stages of its development plan. The stadium, aqua golf facility and parking structure have targeted completion dates of 2026 or early 2027.

“It’s going to be very special. The bulk of our market is out-of-town visitors driving over the hill from California, and when they think of Reno, they will think of the GSR; they won’t think of anyplace else,” Diss said.

“But when we have concerts on Friday or Saturday nights, we only have 2,000 rooms,” he added. “The other properties in town will get room nights out of what we are building because we simply can’t accommodate everyone.”


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