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Sands Hotel a 'Game Changer' for the Region

Resort opening boosts Valley room capacity 5.5 percent, but also "raises the bar of quality."

In its first days of operation, over the Memorial Day weekend, the Sands Bethlehem Casino Hotel filled its rooms to 80 percent of capacity.

In its second week of operation, it hosted its first corporate meeting, for employees of the haircutting chain, Supercuts.

The new hotel should exceed 80 percent capacity again this weekend and before long is expected to approach full capacity just about every weekend, said Bob DeSalvio, president of the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem.

Nearly two weeks after its opening, and two years to the day that the Sands Bethlehem Casino first opened its doors, the new hotel celebrated its official grand opening on Thursday with a ribbon cutting, speeches by dignitaries and a special guest appearance by legendary crooner Paul Anka.

The opening of the hotel marks an important milestone in the redevelopment of the former Bethlehem Steel property, the largest brownfield site in the country.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. President and Chief Operating Officer Michael A. Leven told those assembled that more would be coming soon.

A new upscale shopping mall will have a “soft opening” in November with at least six new stores opening for business. Full build-out and opening of about 35 stores is expected by next President’s Day.

A new 50,000-square-foot events center, attached to the hotel and capable of hosting conventions, conferences and concerts, will also be open for business by February.

“We’re going to keep going,” Leven said. “We’re going to continue to build on our successes.

“I think this hotel fits the environment,” he continued. “It’s not Las Vegas. It’s not Atlantic City … It’s Bethlehem and it’s Lehigh Valley and it feels like it. It’s got a nice tone. It represents well. It’s comfortable … It all fits to what this environment is in this development.”

With 302 rooms, the Sands is the largest hotel in the Lehigh Valley and increases the region’s room inventory by 5½ percent to more than 5,700, said Mike Stershic, president of Discover Lehigh Valley, a non-profit that promotes tourism in the region. It is also the first full-service hotel to open its doors in the region since 1988, Stershic said.

But the increased numbers, while important, are not enough. The high quality of the hotel will be a “game changer” for the region, Stershic asserted.

 “I’m really excited about what this does for the Lehigh Valley. This really raises the bar of quality for the hotel community in the Lehigh Valley,” he said.

“It has the potential to force other hotel owners to look at their property and say, ‘We need to keep up. We need to increase our physical plant. We need to improve the service quality in our hotel,’” Stershic said.

Visitors who stay overnight, on average, spend three times as much during their visit as those who make day trips, Stershic said. In 2009, the Lehigh Valley had 3.9 million visitors who came to Pennsylvania as part of an overnight or multiple-day trip and 10 million day-trippers, Stershic said.

“One of the things we really want to do is convert more of those day trips into overnight stays because that’s where the real money is and that’s where we can really make a huge impact on employment and on tax base,” Stershic said.

With the opening of the hotel, the Sands now has about 1,800 full-time employees, said Mayor John Callahan. The city is conservatively estimating that there will be an additional $6.7 million spent by visitors as a result of the new hotel opening, he said.

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