Alice Springs outback icon set for $100m revampIris Capital plans to add an art hotel to the casino complex set against the backdrop of the MacDonnell Ranges.

Alice Springs outback icon set for $100m revamp

Prolific Sydney-based developer Sam Arnaout has pledged to turn Alice Springs’ iconic Lasseters Hotel Casino into a “true” international resort after revealing plans to invest more than $100 million building a new hotel at the complex, made famous in the 1994 Australian hit movie The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Alongside a new “art style” hotel, Mr Arnaout’s Iris Capital will upgrade the casino’s convention centre, reposition the casino floor and introduce new food and beverage offerings, as it looks to capitalise on its quintessential outback location below the rugged MacDonnell Ranges and the expected revival of domestic and international tourism as borders reopen.

Iris Capital unveiled its plans after settling its $105 million acquisition of the property this week and after the Northern Territory government approved its application to operate the casino.

“The venue has been needing recapitalisation for some time, so we have turned our heads to that. We intend to undertake a repositioning of the casino that will make it a true international integrated resort,” Mr Arnaout told The Australian Financial Review.

“We plan to start works to bring it back to its true, deserving form as soon as we have secured final approvals.”

The new art-style hotel will complement the Aboriginal art galleries Alice Springs is famous for and add a second accommodation offering alongside the casino’s existing 4.5-star, 205-room hotel operated by IHG Hotels & Resorts.

The convention centre, which Iris Capital will upgrade, includes 320 gaming machines, and a host of restaurants and bars. There are also plans to add a residential component to the casino, which was built in 1981 and is one of Alice Springs’ biggest employers.

Iris Capital acquired the casino from Singapore’s Lasseters International Holdings.

The company’s 2021 annual report released in October notes the casino generated revenues of $46 million over the year to June 30, up 12.3 per cent.

While Lasseters noted the challenges of operating a “single asset in a remote location”, Iris Capital is no stranger to undertaking challenging hospitality projects, nor of operating them.

The group, which turns over $500 million a year and employs 1200 people across the country, is one of Australia’s biggest private owners and operators of pubs and hotels, including 17 Ibis hotels acquired for $180 million last year from AccorInvest.

Its pub portfolio includes Manly’s Steyne Hotel and another Manly venue, the Ivanhoe Hotel bought for about $60 million in February.

Iris Capital’s development projects include an $800 million high-rise development on Broadbeach and the $1 billion East End development in Newcastle.

Mr Arnaout said Iris Capital’s plans for the casino aligned with the combined vision of the NT government and Tourism NT for Alice Springs to be Australia’s inland capital by enhancing its appeal as a global tourism icon.

“We are taking a first-mover position with a significant investment that we believe will provide the catalyst for further investment in the region.

“With international flights already servicing Alice Springs, the infrastructure is there for this region to attract further investment by tourism operators and bring the Red Centre closer to a travel-hungry world market,” he said.

Lasseters and Alice Springs garnered a worldwide audience in mid-1990s after the cult movie about a travelling cabaret act featured its three stars – two drag queens and a transgender woman played by Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp – performing a nightclub act at the casino.

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