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Chapter 1: Beyond The Mat

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The year was 1997 and professional wrestling was massive.

The World Wrestling Federation - later to become World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE - was one of the hottest tickets on the planet.  TV ratings for their weekly show, "Monday Night Raw" were sky-high and live events around the world were consistently sold out.

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WWE Chairman & CEO, Vince McMahon

Photo Credit: The Sportster

This success was thanks to Vince McMahon, the company's Chairman & CEO, who had recently decided to take the company in a new direction.  Spurred on by his competition at World Championship Wrestling (aka WCW), McMahon wanted an edgier product with more realistic storylines & characters as opposed to the old-school "wrasslers" who more like cartoon characters.

With that, WWE moved into what became known as "the attitude era" and thanks to rising stars Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and the D-Generation X faction as well as writing from famed wrestling booker Vince Russo, the WWE's success seemed to have no limits.

The company was on the rise and Vince McMahon, never one to sit still, was looking for new ventures to which he could attach the WWF brand.  And in August of 1998, Vince made the first step towards taking a serious gamble on Las Vegas.

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Wrestlemania IX held at Caesars Palace, April 1993

Photo Credit: WhatCulture.com

Las Vegas and professional wrestling weren't exactly strangers at that time.

The WWF had hosted the Roman Colosseum-themed  Wrestlemania IX at Caesars Palace in April of 1993 with just shy of 17,000 spectators in attendance.  It was the first ever Wrestlemania event to be held outdoors and is still considered to be one of the most opulent Wrestlemanias ever.

WCW had also put in a significant amount of time in Las Vegas, having held their annual Halloween Havoc Pay-Per-View event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino from 1996-2000.

But Vince McMahon had his sights set on something bigger than a singular live event or even an annual Pay-Per-View event.  He wanted to create a destination for WWE fans.  A place where people could not only take in live events, but a place where they could play and stay - and maybe even interact with their favourite WWE Superstars.

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Located about a block east of Las Vegas Boulevard, just north of the Wynn Golf Course is 305 Convention Center Drive, which started life in 1970 as the Royal Inn, a small 200-room hotel that would built for around $3 Million.

After a change of ownership in 1983, it was shutdown and reopened as The Paddlewheel Hotel & Casino, a family-friendly resort that featured arcade games & amusement rides.  It eventually shifted to be more adult focused, bringing in a male revue show.  Unfortunately, the owners of the Paddlewheel went bankrupt and the property was shut down and went to auction in 1992.

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Paddlewheel Hotel & Casino

Photo Credit: LasVegasCasinoMuseum.com

Enter Academy Award & Golden Globe-nominated actress, Debbie Reynolds.  She and then-husband Richard Hamlett purchased the former Paddlewheel Hotel for just $2.2 Million with plans to renovate the property to include a museum to house Reynolds' collection of Hollywood memorabilia as well as the construction of a 500-seat theater where she and her celebrity friends could perform.

Reynolds laid out just over $2 million of her own money to begin the work and then took her hotel company public, selling shares to help raise a further $8 Million towards completing the renovations.  The museum, intended to be one of the big draws of the property finally opened in 1995.

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The Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Hotel, located at 305 Convention Center Drive, 1995

Photo Credit: LasVegasCasinoMuseum.com

Unfortunately, the Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Hotel suffered from years of serious mismanagement - including extravagant spending that resulted in losses of upwards of $450,000 per month to the fact that the company had never secured a gaming license, instead renting their casino to a local gaming company to operate.

That company, Jackpot Enterprises, pulled out of the property in 1996 due to a lack of profitability and, because of the hotel company's poor finances, Reynolds was unable to secure a gaming license herself.

When deals to attract new capital and a planned sale to a timeshare development company both fell through, the hotel was no longer able to pay its bills and creditors began suing.  In July 1997 the hotel declared bankruptcy and shortly thereafter, Reynolds herself declared bankruptcy.

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Debbie Reynolds with some of her Hollywood memorabilia collection, 1995

Photo Credit: LasVegasCasinoMuseum.com

In August of 1998, following two failed offers to purchase the property, the former Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Hotel went up for auction and the World Wrestling Federation (and its parent company, Titan Sports) managed to secure the property for the bargain price of just $10 Million with the plan of building a WWF-themed hotel & casino.

The WWF had big plans for their new toy.

They wanted to host daily matches with their developmental talent, feature appearances & events with current WWF Superstars, and even have retired Superstars working as "greeters" within the resort.

WWF-themed amenities were in the works as well including an Undertaker Tattoo Parlor, a Sable Lingerie Shop and even Stone Cold Steve Austin gaming chips featuring the iconic "smoking skull" logo.

To get fans excited for the resort, the WWF produced a sizzle-reel promo video featuring computer-generated images of what the property would look like as well as a walk-through of the planned resort.

Unfortunately for fans of the WWF, things never really made it past the planning stages.  A little over a year after purchasing the property, the WWF made the decision to bail out of the project.

Reasons for doing so included the location (it was too far from the action of the Vegas strip), the property size (it was "too small for the vision"), and the timeshare owners (WWF felt they wouldn't get the support needed to move forward with demolition & construction).

In the end, the WWF decided it would be easier to just sell the resort and look at building in the future in another location.  In late December 2000, WWF announced they'd sold the property for $11.2 Million, making a small profit over their original purchase price.

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The Greek Isles Hotel & Casino, 2001

Photo Credit: Las Vegas Sun

So what happened to the property that was to become the WWF Hotel & Casino?

After it was purchased in 2000, it was remodelled into The Greek Isles Hotel & Casino, which operated from 2001-2009.  In 2007, plans were made for re-development to add more hotel rooms, a larger casino, convention space and several restaurants & retail shops.

That development never happened and in mid-2009, ownership was forced in bankruptcy and in August of 2009, the property was sold with the new ownership eventually re-branding the hotel as a Clarion Hotel in April 2013.  The Clarion was permanently closed following Labor Day weekend in September 2014 and it was sold to developer, Lorenzo Doumani who's family has a long & storied history in Las Vegas, having run the iconic El Morocco and La Concha hotels.

In February 2015, Doumani imploded the Clarion Hotel with plans for a new luxury resort development, The Majestic.  With a planned budget of $850 Million, The Majestic will be a non-gaming hotel featuring 700 suites, six restaurants, multiple sky suites and a medical wellness spa & fitness facility.  Construction on The Majestic is slated to begin in late 2021 with plans for completion in 2024.