By Sherri Welch – Courtesy Greektown Casino
DETROIT – Athens Acquisition LLC, whose sole shareholder is Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, is investing $50 million to $60 million on the renovations to Detroit’S Greektown Casino-Hotel to give it a more modern look and improve customers’ experience. The plan is to differentiate the casino by positioning it as a boutique hotel yet “with a neighborhood feel,” meaning changes ranging from finishes on the ceilings to a newfangled $12 million-plus HVAC system to improve the air quality.
The complex will receive up to $60 million in renovations by the end of 2015.
Renovations meant to refresh Greektown Casino-Hotel’s look, plus provide easier traffic access and upgraded food options, are on the table for the coming months.
Among other planned upgrades are new gaming machines and technologies, the new I-375 ramp now under construction to provide more access to the casino, and a curb cutout to the Lafayette median to provide faster valet service.
The improvements are set to be completed by the end of 2015, when Greektown will re-evaluate whether other upgrades are needed, said Assistant General Manager Brian Hall Eby. The intent is all part of refreshing the casino’s brand.
“We want to be the cool boutique place people feel comfortable in … a neighborhood joint,” he said.
The casino’s website markets Greektown as “your downtown playground where the fun never stops.” But Eby said the casino is still working on its overall branding campaign.
The changes to Greektown its new team envisions are really “back to the basics and nothing monumental,” Eby said. “But you couple all of this together, and you’ll have a great experience.”
The casino is just beginning the bulk of its renovations, but already “we’re coming into our own,” Eby said.
According to figures filed with the Michigan Gaming Control Board, Greektown gained 2 percent market share in July of this year versus the same month of 2013 and 2 percent again in September.
Greektown’s quarterly gaming revenue was up 5.4 percent at $82.7 million compared with the third quarter of 2013.
Eby credits much of the upturn at Greektown to the new players’ club Greektown introduced in July: GT Rewards, which enables people to earn points at 10 times the rate of the casino’s former players club and includes an “invitation-only” level.
“We made all these dangling carrots so it’s easy for people to attain the next (reward) tier,” with each tier getting an additional 10 percent of earning potential, Eby said. “We feel comfortable we’re pulling some market share from the other two.”
Hotel revenue is also up, he said.
“We certainly recognized early on we were comping rooms to people we shouldn’t,” Eby said.
Comps are now more customized to key players, and cash from the hotel has increased as a result, he said.
Improvements already completed at the casino include installation of a new server and network capabilities this summer, along with new machines for players to access their rewards and redeem tickets, 400 new slot machines and new bill validators on each of the games on the floor to put a stop to the issues guests were having with them.
In September, Greektown rebranded its former steakhouse, Brizola, as Prism, adding seafood, pasta and chicken dishes to the menu.
Work has begun on the $1.25 million project the casino is funding to widen the I-375 ramp to the Lafayette Street exit to alleviate bottlenecking and improve access to the casino and downtown area.
But the bulk of the renovations at the casino are set to begin later this year with installation of a $12 million-$14 million HVAC system, Eby said, aimed at solving the No. 1 criticism that customers mention at the casino — its smoky atmosphere.
“I think we probably are going to have one of the most state-of-the-art (HVAC) systems in the U.S. We’ll be drawing in 100 percent outside air,” said Eby who joined Greektown early this year from Warner Gaming LLC in New Mexico, where he served as executive vice president of operations.
Also on tap is a redesign aimed at giving the casino a more modern atmosphere. It will include an alabaster entryway into the casino, higher ceilings, wider open areas and the shrinking of the casino’s center bar area.
New carpeting, lighter wall coverings and more neutral ceiling treatments are planned, along with new chandeliers to light up areas now dim and wood tones to create a modern, upscale look.
The heavy columns that now dominate the gaming room floor will be stripped down to their thinner, weight-bearing widths, while “dummy” columns that aren’t supporting anything will disappear.
Also on tap: new signage to help players navigate the way to their favorite games, adjustable chairs, new wood-tone slot machine bases and “skins” or laminate surfaces, glass escalator walls, complete renovations to six of eight sets of bathrooms that weren’t already updated, and a relocation of the Beaubien Street entrance to the casino to the Trapper’s Alley exit.
A new pit podium with multiple television screens and a separate wall of video screens will broadcast sporting events in the casino.
New picture-in-picture technology is already in place on many of the games in the casino, and that will continue, Eby said, enabling more interaction with casino guests.
The mix of restaurants in the food court is also under review, Eby said.
In the gaming industry, it’s very important to keep meeting consumers’ demands and desires with new investments, whether new bill regulators, new games, a new slot club, a new lounge or a new restaurant, said Steve Zanella, president and COO ofMGM Grand Detroit.
MGM is in the process of taking out the U Me Drink center bar area and replacing it with a new entertainment lounge. The $3 million project should be completed by early December, he said, and is an example of keeping up with what customers want.
The improvements at Greektown and all of the Detroit casinos are a good thing for the market, Zanella said.
“Whenever you add new things and upgrade and reinvigorate your facility … it creates excitement … (and) it will draw more people.”
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