Sunday, Sept. 3, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Christina Ellis has welcomed plenty of eager patrons through the years to Ellis Island.
Long before Ellis became the property’s vice president of development, she was a middle school student working the hostess stand at the coffee shop of her family’s casino.
Visitors flock to the off-Strip property on Flamingo Road and Koval Lane, in part, for their steak special, karaoke nights and craft beers.
Come Nov. 16-18, they’ll arrive to watch the Las Vegas Grand Prix, with a view Ellis says will be second to none.
Ellis Island will bring in 1,000 stadium seats to create grandstand viewing in an area they’ve dubbed, “Turn 4.” That’s because the property is situated near Turn 4 on the 3.8-mile course. There patrons will have a view of the Koval straightaway as the single-seat, open-cockpit Formula 1 race cars zoom by at speeds up to 223 mph and on the way back to Las Vegas Boulevard.
Ellis Island became a venue partner of the Formula One race last late month to pave the way for what could be three of the most memorable days in the storied property’s existence, Ellis said.
The grandstand will be constructed in the parking lot, literally steps away from the course. Tickets are $1,500 for a three-day pass and include complimentary food and soft drinks.
“We are right in the heart of the circuit,” she said.
There will be plenty of great viewing areas along the course route. Only a few, though, will have what Ellis Island can offer: Views of the course and Formula One paddock headquarters. It’s where the race’s start and finish line and driver pits will be located.
The 300,000-square-foot, four-level paddock structure on Harmon Avenue and Koval Lane will be the permanent home for the racing league in Las Vegas. The $500 million project will also have plenty of viewing options on race weekend, from luxury areas to grandstands.
When Liberty Media, Formula One’s parent company, bought the vacant land a few hundred yards south of Ellis Island, it instantly put the casino at the heart of the action. Some estimates have the race bringing a $1 billion economic impact to the region — all but ensuring a big score for the family-owned property.
“The lot next to us was vacant for so long,” Ellis said. “It’s exciting to see activity over there. It’s creating a great, one-of-a-kind opportunity.”
Larger than life event
National media reports said Liberty Media sent letters in late July to establishments with views of the race course seeking licensing payments and threatening to install barriers to block views of the course if those venues didn’t pay.
The ask seemed high: $1,500 per individual viewing the race from each property.
Ellis said they never received such a letter.
That could be because they were already in negotiations for the viewing grandstands — or maybe because no letter existed. Formula One didn’t deny making the demands, but restaurants, bars and resort companies along the route questioned by the Sun also haven’t seen the letter. It could be lore.
Because there are varying levels of partnerships, various businesses are paying a different fee. Ellis Island, which didn’t disclose how much it paid the league in licensing, is a venue sponsor.
Others, like Wynn Resorts and other resort companies, are race partners and offer more upscale viewing. Wynn has a $1 million package that provides admission for six to “the most exclusive VIP spaces along the track such as the ultraexclusive Wynn Grid Club located within the Paddock Club,” according to a news release.
Wynn’s F1 package also includes luxury accommodations, dining, a complimentary round at Wynn Golf Club and spa access. And for every F1 package sold, Wynn is making a $100,000 donation to local philanthropic efforts.
Emily Prazer, chief commercial officer of the Las Vegas Grand Prix, said: “Wynn Las Vegas is the ultimate partner to deliver the caliber of experience that we know our global Formula 1 fans have come to expect. We combined the most exclusive access points across the track with Wynn’s ultraluxury accommodations and amenities to offer a package better than ever before and create the greatest race weekend imaginable.”
The New York Post initially reported on Formula One’s demands. On Aug. 21, it had a separate story saying the company softened its ask to $50,000 per venue along the route — regardless of seats sold.
Race officials aren’t commenting on the ongoing negotiations with establishments. They previously referred to the investment they’ve made to bring the race to Las Vegas each fall for the next 10 years.
“We want the local community to benefit from our event, and we are confident that the race will bring tremendous economic value to Las Vegas as a whole,” officials said in a statement. “F1 commonly executes licensing agreements to protect its intellectual property rights, and the Las Vegas Grand Prix is following this same approach.”
Ellis reported no hiccups in negotiating with race officials, and agreed with the assessment that it would bring along with it a tremendous boost in revenue for Ellis Island over the next 10 years.
“Once we started learning about the race, you realize it’s larger than life ,” she said. “It’s something we knew we had to be part of.”
Work to be done
There are a handful of weekends annually where workers in the Resort Corridor know they’ll be busy.
That’s good, because the hundreds of thousands of visitors flocking for Super Bowl or March Madness viewing parties, or to celebrate New Year’s Eve, keep restaurants and bars packed, providing an income boost for workers.
The $1 billion in expected revenue generated by the Las Vegas Grand Prix will also include tips to servers and bartenders.
“We can’t wait. We are very excited (for the race weekend),” said Teresa Del Moral, food and beverage manager at Ellis Island. “… It’s exciting watching the paddock being constructed and knowing people will be coming here because of that.”
Ellis said Ellis Island would also have race-viewing options at the Front Yard, its beer garden facing Koval Lane. The Front Yard is typically at capacity on an NFL Sunday or for a Golden Knights game, with patrons watching on the big screen televisions.
But for the race, it will be in-person viewing.
A separate viewing deck, called the Front Yard Platform, will be erected at the Front Yard to create indoor-outdoor viewing with a capacity of 350. There will also be a custom menu of stadium food.
That means there will be much ongoing planning until race weekend, including having stadium seating erected for the viewing deck.
It’s a good problem to have, Ellis said.