LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – The poker tables were full, the celebrities were plentiful and the pools were electric: The Rio Hotel & Casino once shined as bright as its neon lights illuminating west of the Las Vegas Strip.

But, that neon has since lost its vibrancy; a vastly different perception than its beaming success from 1990 through the 2000s.

Its outdoor zipline permanently closed, several of its restaurants sat empty, its parade that suspended performers and floats from the casino’s ceiling has ceased operation and, as the rise of online reviewing gained momentum, social media became littered with guest concerns about their safety and enjoyment. One influencer described the property as having “abandoned mall vibes” and “falling apart.” It was also the center of a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in 2017.

Now, new owners have the keys. They’re pairing that with their wallet to transform the historic hotel back to the vibrancy patrons remember it for.

Eric Birnbaum saw an opportunity when juxtaposing the lack of guest experience and fondness for nostalgia. His New York-based real estate company, Dreamscape, purchased the property from Caesars Entertainment in 2019 for $516.3 million.

“Historically, before we took over, you were waiting in a four-hour line to check in,” Birnbaum said inside the hotel’s Wine Cellar & Tasting Room Thursday afternoon, which reopened to the public after a multi-year closure hours later. “We always felt that it had the potential to be brought back to what it once was. It just needed the capital, it needed the right management team and it needed the attention and focus.”

Though Caesars Entertainment has continued operating the property directly across the freeway from Caesars Palace since the sale through a lease agreement, Dreamscape became the full operator in October 2023. Their $340 million renovation project began months earlier in the summer, bringing total investment into the property, thus far, to nearly $860 million.

“Everything needed to be rethought, reimagined, and ultimately changed,” Birnbaum said.

With keys in hand, the CEO and his team then danced the dance of welcoming guests on busy Las Vegas weekends while simultaneously renovating 1,500 suites in its Ipanema Tower, updating its convention space, converting its buffet into a food hall, redesigning its four pools, reopening its wine cellar, installing 500 slot machines and making the outside as vibrant as remembered.

Current efforts are focused on completing the unfinished pools, enhancing the entrance area, altering the lobby, and revamping the casino floor and sportsbook.

In the meantime, Birnbaum explains most renovated rooms and restaurants there are available now, on top of one of the longest-running shows in Vegas, Penn & Teller, in the hotel’s theater and the property’s recent designation as the first Destination by Hyatt in Nevada.

However, when the white walls concealing construction within the hotel come down, will guests embrace the property as they did decades ago? Birnbaum argues the investment will sway current perception.

“These are battleships that you’re trying to turn, and we are slowly turning it and bringing The Rio back,” Birnbaum said. “You can’t fool the customer. You can’t fool the guest. They’ll know, and all the blogs, all the TikToks, and all that will ultimately see the truth. The truth is, is that at where we’re positioning this project and what we’re delivering to the guest, (it) will speak for itself.”

The guest will have the final say when the entire project wraps sometime in 2025.

1,012 guestrooms in the Masquerade Tower and the surrounding public areas will see revitalization starting after the end of the first phase in the fall.

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