Hosting IMEX and other mega tradeshows, the Venetian and Palazzo hotels, incorporating the Sands Expo and Convention Center, form the world’s largest integrated resort. Combining 7,100 luxurious suites, nearly 2.3 million square feet of high-tech tradeshow and meeting space, and abundant dining, entertainment and retail options, Founder Sheldon Adelson’s pioneering creation spurred the shift to high-end hospitality that defines Las Vegas today. Fortune credited The Venetian, opened in 1999 nine years after the convention facility, with “fueling the overall renaissance” of Vegas at the time. 

The Palazzo followed in 2009, the same year that Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corporation unveiled another renaissance project, the former Bethlehem Steel plant in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. 

Sands acquired 126 acres of the sprawling complex in 2007. After remediating what was the largest brownfield site in the nation, Sands, a leader in sustainability and preservation, debuted its new-build casino in May 2009. Incorporating recycled steel from the site, the luxurious 282-room Sands Hotel followed in 2011, offering 12,000 square feet of versatile space, along with the indoor Outlets at Sands Bethlehem shopping mall. Other integrations include 10 F&B concepts; Bethlehem Event Center; Visions nightclub; and a spa, indoor pool and fitness center.

This adaptation of Sands’ MICE-driven integrated resort model has since proven an ironclad investment for groups, gamblers and leisure guests alike. As I discovered last month, the property stands out on multiple levels, starting with ease of reach.

From NYC, it was a painless 80 miles on I-78. Philadelphia is closer, at 60 miles. Unsurprisingly, most of Sands’ group and leisure business comes from these markets and their environs. Arrival under the Sands sign, mounted on a giant original ore crane, conveys a powerful sense of place, heightened by the mighty Bethlehem Steel industrial architecture bordering the hotel’s parking lot.

First, though, was an eye-opening tour with Patrick Ryan, executive director of hotel operations, starting with the AAA Four Diamond property’s 15th-floor Chairman’s Level, included in a comprehensive 2016 renovation (just five years in). This private check-in top floor, streamlined from 30 to 11 rooms, is pure Vegas, including the 1,600-square-foot Chairman’s Suite and the Chairman’s Lounge, available for private meetings 

With free secure Wi-Fi throughout, key meeting spaces include the 125-capacity Foundry Room, with steel plant views. Accommodating 2,300 seated or 3,300 general admission guests for A-list entertainment, the SMG-managed Sands Bethlehem Event Center offers 14,000 square feet of flexible space, including 800 for banquets and up to 120 tradeshow booths.

Housed in a replica steel shed, the Vegas-style casino features molten-steel art dripping from the ceiling and skylights, rare for a gaming floor. 

Scaled for all budgets, F&B concepts surround the casino. Vegas imports include three concepts from celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, including high-end Emeril’s Chop House and mid-range Emeril’s Fish House. Carlo’s Bake Shop and Buddy V’s Ristorante from TV’s Cake Boss are also here. 

The resort attracts mainly corporate and state association meetings. The integrated offering especially appeals to the latter, noted Ryan, “often producing a 10 to 15 percent lift in attendance,” adding that 125 room nights on peak is their sweet spot.

Creating some 3,000 jobs, the resort has helped stabilize and rejuvenate Bethlehem’s post-steel economy, rippling throughout the Lehigh Valley. Corporate give-back and community support also define Sands’ place in the region.

Bethlehem Steel’s iconic legacy crowns the resort’s unique identity. Originated in 1857, the plant, heroic in both World Wars, supplied the steel for structures that include the Waldorf-Astoria, Golden Gate Bridge and Chrysler Building before closing in 1995. 

Reborn as SteelStacks, a 10-acre event-capable arts and entertainment campus adjacent to Sands, the mighty works, including the 1907 Hoover-Mason Trestle, reimagined as an elevated walkway, and surviving blast furnaces, awe, inspire and humble like few other places.