Fontainebleau Las Vegas names new president

February 1, 2022 1:00 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
February 1, 2022 1:00 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports

Cliff Atkinson, the former president and COO of Luxor Hotel & Casino, has been appointed president of Fontainebleau Las Vegas.

When the property opens at the end of 2023, Atkinson said he expects it to “be a beacon of change for the future of Las Vegas.”

Florida-based Fontainebleau Development resumed construction in November on the 67-story resort on the north end of the Strip adjacent to the new West Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. It will feature more than 3,700 hotel rooms, 550,000 square feet of convention space, and a collection of restaurants and shops, pool experiences, nightlife options, and spa and wellness offerings.

Atkinson, 47, most recently served as founder and CEO of WE Advisory Group, providing direction on business-development strategies, revenue-management services, operations, turnarounds, and new building development. Prior to founding his consulting firm, Atkinson served as president of Luxor where, “among other accomplishments, he executed a robust engagement strategy to increase employee communication and satisfaction among the property’s 3,300 team members,” according to Fontainebleau’s press release.

A former general manager at New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel, Atkinson served as senior vice president of hotel strategy for MGM Resorts International, as well as in general-manager roles for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group starting in San Francisco, before relocating to Las Vegas in 2012. Two years later, Atkinson was named “Hotelier of the Year” by the Nevada Hotel and Lodging Association.

“I feel as if my entire career has prepared me for this role. It’s a tremendous honor to lead Fontainebleau Las Vegas and bring the property to life,” Atkinson said. “I’ve been in this community operating for over 10 years. I have a lot of opening experience and my time at Luxor gave me scale. Everything that is Fontainebleau Las Vegas, from hotel, food and beverage, entertainment, to a challenging opening in the middle of Las Vegas, every step along my journey has allowed me to put it all together in this one unique and really exciting package.”

Atkinson says construction is about 75% complete and the resort remains on track for a fourth-quarter 2023 opening. He said there’s a flurry of “exciting” activity on the site, some of which is visible from the outside.

“I was shocked at how much was completed the first time I walked the property,” Atkinson said. “It’s in a great state. It’s cleaning up that exterior and building out the finishes of the interior.”

In addition to the 3,700 rooms, Atkinson said there will be announcements about “significant food and beverage” and its “fantastic meeting space.” Conventions will also be a big part of the brand to complement the Convention Center and while meetings aren’t back to normal yet, they will be by the time Fontainebleau opens.

“I’m so excited because we’re located directly across from the Convention Center. As an operator, it’s a dream to have that type of location,” Atkinson said. “All of that will be complementary to what the market has, but also unique in the way we will position, offer, and present it to both our customers and 6,000 employees who will be working with me as a team to really bring this building to life.”

Atkinson said the market hasn’t seen some of the features that will be unveiled by packaging and delivering them “in a unique way.”

“To make a brand statement in a town like this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As somebody who loves this market, I have a strong desire to be here and lead this project, with the whole story and history. I’m really humbled by and honored for the opportunity.”

Atkinson said what the Fontainebleau brand has achieved in its 50-year history “is unrivaled in this industry,” and with his background in luxury, lifestyle, and service, he and the team have the opportunity to help reshape the hospitality and gaming experience on the Strip.

“Today is Point A for this town,” Atkinson said. “We’ve had some great openings and great historic properties, and we have the legend that is Las Vegas. I think our opening, at that moment in time, will be one of those bookending at the north end of the Strip. Our property will set the tone for what the future of this destination will be – everything that’s important to the guest experience, from technology to how the world has evolved over the last two years. More important, we’re not losing the roots of what we do as a destination and a brand, which is providing the best hospitality service to our customers.”

Atkinson said it’s important to tell their brand story in the coming months.

Fontainebleau Development, which designs, builds, owns, and operates hospitality, commercial, retail, and luxury properties, acquired the stalled development at 2777 Las Vegas Blvd. S. in February 2021, along with partner Dallas-based Koch Real Estate Investments.

Fontainebleau Development Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Soffer was the original developer of the high-rise hotel-casino project that broke ground in 2007. The real estate crash and subsequent Great Recession forced the project into bankruptcy in 2009, before being acquired by billionaire Carl Ichan in 2010. Ichan sold it in 2017 to New York developer Steve Witkoff.

“Bringing that to life is a story unto itself,” Atkinson said of the original developers being back involved. “Couple that with what’s happening in the market with the new pieces of the Convention Center that haven’t been fully utilized yet because of the pandemic. All of that will start to come together and be a beautiful next chapter for Las Vegas.”

As technology changes rapidly, Atkinson said the Fontainebleau is anticipating where technology will be, not only two years from now, but five and ten years away. His team is also anticipating what customer behavior and expectations will be.

“We want not only to meet that expectation, but exceed it,” Atkinson said. “We’re thinking of all of those touchpoints for the guest journey from beginning to end, as well as our employees’ journey, on how to deliver that service.”

As for how Fontainebleau will draw customers to Las Vegas, Atkinson said the starting point is the sister property in Miami, with its own following and history.

“We start there and as we move forward, we’ll be announcing some unique partnerships to help deliver that,” Atkinson said. “But we start with a brand that’s already successful in Miami.”

Fontainebleau executives were quick to praise Atkinson as the perfect hire for the property. With a proven track record of architecting business-optimization strategies, Atkinson’s success lies in years of boosting employee engagement, guest experience, and overall company performance, grounded in data and analytics, the company said in a press release.

“When we set out to identify a visionary leader for our next-generation luxury resort, Cliff’s knowledge and relevant hands-on approach and experience, coupled with the perspective gained from nearly 30 years in hospitality, made him the unequivocal choice for Fontainebleau Las Vegas,” Soffer said. “With Cliff guiding our team, we move forward with even greater confidence and trust in our vision for the future of the Fontainebleau brand and Las Vegas.”

The company said Atkinson’s consulting firm allows him to draw on his experience in hospitality management, operations, and pre-opening support, training, and team building.

“So much of Cliff’s success is rooted in his ability to build human capital and company cultures through a combination of business acumen, empathy, confidence, and natural charisma,” added President of Fontainebleau Development Brett Mufson. “Those genuine qualities and his achievements align perfectly with the Fontainebleau brand, our culture, and our commitment to first-class service and memorable experiences for our guests.”