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 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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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."
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.