Derek Stevens tries to bring a bit of Detroit downtown with the D

A view of the D Las Vegas in downtown Las Vegas Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012. The casino, formerly Fitzgeralds, is celebrating it’s rebranding and renovation with festivities this weekend.

Just as people from Hawaii view the California casino as "the ninth island," Derek Stevens wants people in Detroit to look at the D in downtown Las Vegas— like a second home.

He is advertising throughout the Great Lakes region to attract customers from Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. He has brought a beloved Detroit eatery, American Coney Island, to his Fremont Street casino. Even the name "the D" is a nickname among Detroit residents for their city.

It's also the hometown of Stevens and his brother Greg, who came to Las Vegas when the automotive industry began to crumble during the recession. After making it big selling nuts and bolts for cars, they bought the old Fitzgerald's last year and began to rebuild it from the inside out.

The Stevens brothers also are part owners in the Golden Gate, which unveiled its own renovation last month.

This weekend, the Stevens debut the new D.

The brothers rebuilt the casino to fit in with changes taking place on Fremont Street, which over the past few years has been reincarnated as a new hipster place to party. Other casinos that have undergone recent face lifts include the El Cortez, Golden Nugget and Plaza. Even Neonopolis, on the verge of emptiness a year ago, is coming back to life with new tenants.

Stevens gave VEGAS INC the first look at the culmination of a year of construction and explained how he's bringing hints of the Midwest downtown:

    • The Long Bar

      What first caught Derek Stevens' eye in the old Fitzgerald's was a big bank of slot machines that no one played. So he replaced them with a wall of television screens and video poker banks embedded in a 110-foot bar.

      He drew plans for the Long Bar on the back of a cocktail napkin for his brother.

      It's not a sports book. That's upstairs. Stevens just wanted a big bar with plenty of TVs.

      "I thought about the kind of place I'd like to watch football," he said.

    • The lobby

      The casino-hotel's old lobby greeted visitors with a dingy front desk and worn carpeting. The new design includes splashes of red, gray, black and purple.

      "We liked the location of the entry, but we really needed a new look and feel to the place," Stevens said.

      Stevens said he tried to build a contemporary urban feel into the 1980s-era casino previously owned by mobster Moe Dalitz.

    • A nod to GM

      Walk into the D from Fremont Street, and it's easy to miss the subtle salute to Motor City.

      The big black Camaro, a General Motors product, is obvious. It sits inside the door as part of a casino giveaway.

      But Stevens added a Detroit insider's touch. The sign announcing the giveaway includes the phrase "Keep America Rolling," GMG's famous post-9/11 advertising slogan. Stevens called the heads of GM to get permission to adopt the slogan for the casino's monthly drawings.

    • Big screens

      Oversized video screens line the exterior of the D, changing the look of the casino and add visual appeal to two of its bars.

      The side-by-side screens meld together to appear as one and complement the Fremont Street Experience's much larger overhead screen.

      The videos shown on the TVs were created by Roger Parent, the Montreal-based former executive producer of Cirque du Soleil. Parent has done similar work for Mandalay Bay and the MGM Grand.

      For an outdoor bar, which features 18 frozen drink machines, Stevens hired Christian Delpech, a repeat flair bartending champion.

      "He's to bartending what Wayne Gretzky is to hockey," Stevens said.

    • Two stories

      The D is one of Las Vegas' few two-story casinos.

      Downstairs, Stevens revamped the space with new carpet and gaming tables. Loud uptempo music plays while scantily-clad dancers groove on raised platforms.

      Upstairs, Stevens installed old-school coin slots and a 1970s Sigma Derby mechanical horse race that costs a quarter a game.

      "Downstairs you're going to hear more Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga," Stevens said. "Upstairs, it's more Sinatra."

    • Coney dogs

      American Coney Island, which claims to have invented the Coney dog, opened today at the D and already has been successful in luring Detroit fans to Las Vegas.

      "There's one family who has been coming to visit us at Christmas every year, and they're all flying out here for the opening," owner Grace Keros said. "There's about 50 of them. They couldn't wait to come out here."

      The family's name? Fitzgerald.

      "Well, that's pretty ironic," Stevens said.

    • The rooms

      When the original Sundance Hotel was built on the spot that would become the D, it was the tallest building in Nevada with 33 stories. The Stevens found the rooms hadn't really been touched much when they began refurbishing last October.

      Construction finished this week. All of the rooms have new furniture (manufactured in the United States, Stevens points out), carpet and a contemporary design, with more blacks, grays and reds.

      Standard rooms cost $39 on weekdays and $100 on weekends.

    • Corner king

      For $20 more a night, visitors can rent oversized rooms with pillow-top beds.

      "The one thing we concentrated on with all these rooms was getting a comfortable bed," Stevens said. "That's the most important."

    • The suites

      One-bedroom suites go for $99 during the week and $259 on weekends.

      Each includes a bar with two wine chillers, a bed adorned with wood-grained panels, spacious closets and unique art.

      "What we liked about this property is that we could just tear it all down to the basics and start all over," Stevens said.

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    1. @bobthebuilder: I think that pretty much sums up Vegas these days as well, unfortunately. You just forgot "foreclosed neighborhoods."

    2. I love what they have done -- at least from the pictures. Definitely looks like something worth checking out next time I am on Freemont street.

      Although, I have to question the sanity of naming one's casino after a city that seems to be on the decline (and may never recover for that matter). If you were trying to attract midwesterners, why not have the name something to do with Chicago, certainly a respected city whose name doesn't remind one of poverty and the slums.

    3. Stevens did a great job with this revamp. The D looks great!

    4. Great job getting the casino shiny again but please do not invite the riff-raff that is destroying Detroit to our town unless they are going to drop some money and take the next flight out.

    5. It's nice to see folks like the Stevens taking risks by investing their money, time & effort in helping DT LV reinvigorate itself. However, I'm quite sure that within a short time the naysayers will be out in force bad mouthing them, as they do most employers. To too many, success is not a badge of honor nor is it respected anymore. We have, in America, a certain cadre of spiteful, jealous and mean-spirited parasites who, afraid to take any risks themselves, simply cannot abide anyone who does. They always see the glass as half empty rather than half full.

    6. As a Detroiter, I visited the D last mont when I was in town. Next time I plan on staying there, instead of my usual Strip hotel. I believe in supporting those who have similar roots.

      As for the Detroit naysayer's, I bet none of you have been to the "D" recently. You really need to visit!

    7. I visited the D in September and really enjoyed the vibe. If you had visited Fitzgerald's in it's twilight as I had, how one cannot appreciate the transformation is beyond my capacity to understand. In fact, I stayed Downtown for one night for the first time in my Vegas life and I will be back for more. Respect to those like the Stevens' who have assumed the personal risk of bringing downtown back to life. Those who scorn them for whatever reason need to re-evaluate their thinking. This is another story of what makes this country so great in spite of all the crap we are hammered by on a day to day basis. In three years I have seen downtown go from a seedy place where your feeling of security was uncertain to a vibrant, killer place to spend some down time. This a renaissance that needs to be experienced if you've thought about trying it, but haven't taken the plunge. As for the ridiculous comment by Bob the Negative Realist, the riff-raff is no different in Detroit than it is everywhere. I am from Texas and have two close friends from Detroit. Knowing those guys have my back makes me feel better. If the Stevens' get their grit from the same place, we all need more Imports from Detroit.

      Keep America Rolling.