LAS VEGAS (CN) — Downtown Las Vegas sees 24 million visitors annually. One might think the area could rest on its laurels and be fat and happy.

But that thinking wouldn’t take into account Derek Stevens, whose vision and drive has resulted in the first, built-from-the-ground-up casino development downtown in 30 years.

Circa Resort & Casino, the tallest building north of the Strip at 35 stories and 458 feet, broke ground in February 2019. Not only did Stevens and his team build it quickly, but they also did it during the Covid-19 pandemic. The 512-room resort was completed at the end of 2020.

“Downtown Las Vegas is authentic, cool and has the vintage vibe that our city is known for. Circa is our newest resort downtown and it really is a place that respects our history, while providing exciting new experiences,” said Mayor Carolyn G. Goodman.

She added: “The resort has all the latest technology and features mixed with old-school service and attention to detail. Circa offers fabulous dining, entertainment and fun, not to mention the world’s largest sports book, which is heaven for any sports fan."

Stevens, who along with his brother Greg also own The D and Golden Gate hotels and casinos downtown, said things are going well so far. "I think what we’ve seen, when you look back at from the pandemic, we’re kind of unique in as much as we opened in October of 2020, so you know, with all the pandemic restrictions in place, we were able to get through it,” he said.

He also applauded his experience with the city. "Obviously when you do a project the size of Circa, I get a lot of accolades for being the guy who kind of headed up getting this thing going,” he said. “The reality is that it takes a lot of people and a lot of help to do a project like this.”

Stevens said it helps being a privately held company. “You can make some calls and make some decisions which were all internal,” he said.

Stevens envisioned his resort with "wow experiences” and “destination-type” amenities.

“We built the largest sportsbook in the world. We felt that if you’re a sports fan, you’re going to want to see the world’s largest sportsbook,” said Stevens.

With six pools and two spas along with cabanas at the venue, Stadium Swim at Circa Resort & Casino can accommodate 4,000 guests. (Bob Leal/Courthouse News)
With six pools and two spas along with cabanas at the venue, Stadium Swim at Circa Resort & Casino can accommodate 4,000 guests. (Bob Leal/Courthouse News)

Judging by the smile on the face of Francisco Vieira, Stevens hit a home run. Vieira and three friends, all from Brazil, watched their beloved national soccer team take on Switzerland during early World Cup action.

“I’ve enjoyed it a lot,” said Vieira, watching the game from the sportsbook’s third-story balcony. He said he was most impressed by the massive video screens and called it “very exciting.”

The three-story, stadium-style sports offering takes sportsbooks to another level. It can accommodate 1,000 guests and draws overflowing crowds on game days with its 78 million-pixel, high-definition screen, which takes 10 people to operate. The sportsbook also is home to a VSIN sports betting network, so bettors can learn more about strategy from the pros.

A visit to Circa wouldn’t be complete without checking out Stadium Swim, which features six pools and two spas on different levels where guests can watch events on a 143-by-40-foot, 14-million-pixel LED screen. The pools are heated 365 days a year, so watching an event and sitting in a pool in the middle of winter is not a problem. The venue can accommodate 4,000 guests.

Stevens said the goal when his team was designing Stadium Swim was to make it “the best aqua-theater in the country.”

Another amenity at the resort sits above everything else: the Legacy Club, a high-end lounge with views of the Las Vegas valley.

“The sunsets from the Legacy Club are unbelievable over the Red Rock Mountains. You get to see Las Vegas light up before your very eyes.” Stevens said, calling it a "must-visit."

A section of the Legacy Club pays homage to Las Vegas pioneers, with busts and pictures of legends such as Benny Binion, Sam Boyd, Howard Hughes and Jackie Gaughan.

What about the Strip? Are the neighbors to the south of downtown, roughly four to five miles away competition?

Stevens said downtown only has 6,000 hotel rooms out of the 155,000 in the city. So he gets plenty of his business from people who stay on the Strip.

“I don’t really view downtown as competing with the Strip,” he said. He characterized both locations as “complementary” and said that symbiotic relationship has made downtown the second-most visited tourist destination in America.

Las Vegas downtown’s outlook hasn’t always been rosy.

“I think Las Vegas’ downtown went through a period similar to a lot of other American downtowns: People moving to the suburbs,” said Michael Green, an associate professor of history at University of Nevada Las Vegas.

“One of the difficulties in downtown Las Vegas was that the casinos were, intentionally or otherwise, competing with the Strip, and the Strip had surpassed them. So in the 1970s and 1980s, there was plenty of talk about downtown redevelopment," he said. “When we get to the 1990s and current century, there is talk and there is action, but there is also the realization: Yes, you can have a Circa or other significant resorts, but you can’t just try to replicate the Strip or just offer gambling."

Green said the action began in the 1990s. “So in the 1990s, it was the Fremont Street Experience, a canopy that was built over the street,” Green said. “There’s been a concerted effort to build up downtown and more people have moved into the area.”

The ever-popular Fremont Street Experience, with the world’s largest video screen suspended 90 feet over a pedestrian mall, helps attract guests to Circa. It is nearly 1,400 feet long and 90 feet wide with 50 million LED lights and a 600,000-watt sound system. Visitors stroll through and listen to free entertainment on three different stages. Like other casinos on the mall, Circa has an entry from the property to the Fremont Street Experience.

While Circa is peppered with restaurants, bars, a coffee shop and retail outlet, one of the critical components of Circa is old-fashioned customer service. Stevens believes it is imperative that his team members are “respectful” and “appreciative” of guests who walk through the doors.

“Our team needs to realize guests are giving them their time,” he said. In return, he added, he aims to provide guests with “the time of their life.”