CityCenter: The New Urban Vision of Las Vegas
On the back cover of a recent New Yorker Magazine, bastion of serious fiction, non-fiction and poetry, was a full page ad that took me by surprise, especially after I had just traveled there for the Luxury Summit conference. It said, " So you're not a Vegas person... " and then in huge block letters, "ARE YOU SURE?" It was an ad for CityCenter, and touted all the great art, great culture, restaurants and cultural atmosphere found there. But that ad stuck with me, as the inference was the theme I was going to explore: could a visionary development on a grand scale change personal tourist attitudes toward a destination? And conversely, could Las Vegas actually be perceived differently because of one grand multi-use venue?
In thinking about this, it is crucial to remember that Las Vegas is a desert city, situated in a barren Mojave desert valley. The city is about 2000 feet above sea level, it rains, on average, less that 5 inches a year. But visionaries have come here before, dreamed big dreams, and built. Historically, Las Vegas's persona is tied to big gaming and play in all its dark and light dimensions. But the building of CityCenter challenges this Las Vegas stereotype, as its vision hopes to resculpt and redesign Las Vegas's neon persona, by creating a design as well as an eco-sensitive aesthetic unseen and untried anywhere else. Here are some basic dimensions.
First, CityCenter's cost: $8 ½ billion, a joint venture between the MGM Mirage and the Infinity World Development Corp, a subsidiary of Dubai World.
Second, its size: 18 million square feet, or 67 acres, located between the Bellagio and the Monte Carlo resorts.
Third, what it includes: ARIA, a 61 story, 4004 room gaming resort, The Mandarin Oriental, and Vdara Hotel and Spa, two high end non-gaming hotels, Veer Towers, the development's only residential buildings, and Crystals, the 500,000 square foot entertainment and retail area.
Fourth: the Crystals luxury brand-width. "We wanted to move the epicenter in the Western United States of these large, luxury retailers from Los Angeles to Las Vegas," MGM Mirage Retail President Frank Visconti explained. "Almost every one of the tenants is larger here than it is in L.A. We never wavered from that." To that end, the largest Louis Vuitton store in North America, is at Crystals, as well as flagship stores for Tiffany &Co., Hermes, Prada,, Roberto Cavalli, and Ermengildo Zegna. Also in Crystals are unique-to the-market retailers for Las Vegas: Tom Ford, Carolina Herrera, Paul Smith, Kiton, KiKi De Montparnasse, Marni, Assouline, H. Stern,Tourbillon, Porsche Design, de Grisogono, Lanvin and rLo Gallery.
And finally, fifth and to many the most socially relevant, is that it the first of any hotel, retail, or residential district in Las Vegas to receive the US Building Council's LEED® Gold certification, where it is has received six Gold honors. CityCenter is, in addition to be visually arresting, an eco-sensitive, green development.
Opened in December, 2009, and conceptualized by Jim Murren, CEO of the MGM Mirage, it was his vision that wished to create an urban resort destination that would transform the core identity of Las Vegas. To that end, eight of the most famous architects in the world were commissioned to create an area so new it would be transformational of the destination where it resided. This is a Sisyphean undertaking, as it is one thing to have Las Vegas visitors race off the plane and hit the gaming tables in record time, it is another for them to view and ponder, for example, Maya Lin's exceptional hanging sculpture, Silver River, hammered from 3700 pounds of molten silver into the shape of the Colorado river ( see image above), or examine the abstracted forms of Henry Moore or Claes Oldenberg, or the whimsy with Nancy Rubins' 200+ canoes, kayaks and rowboats exploding into a spiky sculpture in front of the Vdara or Jenny Holzer's edgy LED-lit VEGAS that streams 18-foot words under a parking arcade. (For more images of CityCenter, see Deidre Woollard's photo tour).
But it is exactly the fusion of these intentional opposites that Murren is trying to meld, as both playing and pondering can be done with equal ease at CityCenter.
Such a vision has been discussed and criticized, as it has often appeared untenable, out of step in this quirky economy. But outlier visions like his usually have undeniable substance, and time appears to be on his side. In addition, who's to criticize a project this large that has eco-sensitive sustainability? In addition, Las Vegas has 35 million annual visitors a year, and this year, more visitors and conventions appear to be returning, and many to check out CityCenter.
In addition, Murren's sights are set on the idea that CityCenter might be the best hope for a well-curated art collection that the public can experience -- AND, do so in a socially responsible, green environment where great art just happens to co-exist with the best casinos, non-gaming and gaming luxury hotels, exceptional restaurants, and the highest end retail brands in the world. Will this original vision translate into a long-term transformed reality, changing the face of Las Vegas forever? Time will tell. Stay tuned.