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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Circa 2021: Derek Stevens opened his downtown Las Vegas hotel, Circa, on Oct. 28, then Dec. 28, amid pandemic

While the new downtown Las Vegas hotel Circa Resort & Casino was five years in the making, Derek Stevens and his brother, Greg Stevens, opened for business during the pandemic: Circa’s casino and amenities debuted Oct. 28, while the hotel rooms became available to the public on Dec. 28.

Detroit native Stevens, who renovated Fitzgeralds and opened the D Hotel downtown in 2012 and also owns Golden Gate, is the name and face of the hotels, while his low-profile brother, an engineer by trade, lives in Michigan. Circa is an homage to Las Vegas’ trailblazers, as seen throughout the property, from portraits and metal busts to the property’s brandings, including the 60th-floor rooftop lounge Legacy Club.

A few facts that make Circa, at 8 Fremont Street Experience, stand out in the Las Vegas desert landscape: When it opened two months ago, Circa was the only hotel in Las Vegas for ages 21 and older (this is strictly enforced, and the Cromwell on the Las Vegas Strip would follow suit shortly after), and Circa, an opulent blend of old school and modern, is the new home of iconic Las Vegas sign Vegas Vickie.

Avid sports fan Stevens, 53, answered questions at Mega Bar on Saturday afternoon while smoking a few cigarettes and as electronic dance music blared in the background at the 777-room Circa, the former home of Las Vegas Club, Glitter Gulch, La Bayou and Mermaids and the first newly built resort in 40 years:

How are you feeling about your newly opened Circa Resort & Casino?

This was a five-year project. We bought the Las Vegas Club in August of 2015. Going through the demolition, then the design and build, I’ll tell you what, my team and I were pretty excited when Oct. 28 arrived, and we could open up the key elements – the casino, the sports book and Stadium Swim.

And then we had eight weeks to get the kinks out a little bit, and we were excited for Dec. 28 to open the hotel. We’ve really only been open for business completely for four days, but it has been great. Las Vegas had quite a bit of pent-up demand for new product, and, so far, I think things are going pretty well.

As you said, Circa was five years in the making, so you weren’t planning for a global pandemic. How did you pivot?

You’re absolute right, the pandemic was not part of our thought process (laughs). The way we pivoted is that we were very fortunate that the governor (Steve Sisolak) deemed construction to be essential in Nevada. That was very good for the state, and it allowed us to focus on the first five floors of this project and Garage Mahal.

We were able to open two months early, so that was a tremendous help. It was good for us to get to open early, and we were able to bring 1,500 new jobs to the city in a time when the city really needed new jobs. And now we just had a whole new wave of hiring with the hotel open.

The pandemic certainly threw a wrinkle into things, but we are working through the governor’s current directives like everyone else. I’m pretty happy with where we’re at right now.

Tell me about the naming behind Circa and the brandings across the property.

We really struggled for a while to come up with a name. Our working title was just the address here, the old Las Vegas Club address. We had a handful of names that we took a look at … a firm we brought out and spent some time with us said, “This is really an homage to Las Vegas.”

But it’s not going to be circa 1906, it’s not going to be circa 1950s, it’s not going to be circa 1980s, it’s not going to be circa 2000. It’s going to represent everything, and that’s why the name is Circa. It just all hit us. We’re celebrating all these wonderful eras in Las Vegas history. We wanted a new property with new amenities, but we also wanted to pay homage to Las Vegas.

What at Circa really stands out? Mega Bar, Stadium Swim, the world’s largest sports book. I should let you answer my question.

(Laughs) With Mega Bar, the world’s longest bar West of the Mississippi, I stole the idea from ourselves. The Long Bar at the D Hotel was something we just created – it wasn’t meant to be the longest bar West of the Mississippi. We just fit it in and made a really long bar, and it worked. I’ve enjoyed a lot of time at Long Bar.

When we had the opportunity here at Circa, we kicked it up a notch and created Mega Bar. Circa is really about offering some unique attractions – the world’s largest sports book, Mega Bar, Garage Mahal, amenities for people to feel safe, comfortable and well-lit, music and art, as well.

And then Stadium Swim, that was a project while we were in design, we were still running Downtown Las Vegas Events Center. We had concerts, music festivals and watch parties. The watch parties really took off, and the events center really helped us design and create Stadium Swim. It’s not a new concept, but it has a large screen, and I wanted to focus on pools open 365 day and night.

How would you describe your time in Las Vegas after successes with the D, Golden Gate and Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, to go from Detroit to downtown Las Vegas?

I love the state of Nevada, and I love Las Vegas. I’m a business guy, so I do all my business during the day, but what I really love is, after having a day in the office, so to speak, I get to come down to the casino floor. I feel really lucky that I get to meet so many people. The visitor in Las Vegas is different than any other visitor. They’re excited, happy and have some exuberance being here. I love being around people who are excited and positive. I really love Las Vegas.

When you’re not working, what do you like to do for fun in Las Vegas?

Oh, I like to sit at Mega Bar or Overhang Bar (the bar above the sports book). I’m learning my new spots here. I love the sports book, and I love sports. I don’t miss too many games. I love watching sports and hanging out with groups of people. … I spent six hours at Stadium Swim yesterday. It’s Jan. 1, and I’m watching the big college football games outside by the pool. I can’t wait for sports fans and everyone to experience Stadium Swim.

You’re a big Vegas Golden Knights fan and a longtime Detroit Red Wings fan, right?

I’m definitely a Golden Knights fan, No. 1, but my second favorite team is the Detroit Red Wings. They’re in different conferences, so they only play once a year here and once a year in Detroit. I don’t think I’m going to have much of a conflict, but I would like to see the Red Wings play the Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup. That would be a winner on both sides as far as I’m concerned.

I’m excited for the new season to start. I think the Vegas Golden Knights have brought so much to the Las Vegas community. … From a community standpoint, it’s just awesome to see our city really love our hometown team.

What are you looking forward to in the new year?

I’m looking forward to what I think is an incredible pent-up demand to come to Las Vegas. I think that once we get over the pandemic, Las Vegas is just going to roar. It will come back initially through the independent traveler, the couples, a few buddies, bachelor and bachelorette parties, the small groups.

I think there is a tremendous demand to come to Las Vegas. It’s going to take a little while longer with the conventions, but they will eventually be back. We’ll be ready to go for the unprecedented demand, so I’m really excited for what 2021 has to offer. I’m really excited for 2021 – I’m excited for everything.