Vegas is gambling on CityCenter


Even along the Las Vegas Strip, where extravagance and overindulgence are the norm, people are wondering this about the new CityCenter project: Has it blown the lid off the definition of “over the top”?

“My first impression was, ‘This was either completely crazy or the greatest project in the world,’ ” said Daniel Libeskind, the renowned architect who designed the exterior of the project’s Crystals retail center.

“It turned out to be the latter,” Libeskind said as he wandered through CityCenter, the $8.5-billion behemoth of hotels, private residences and super-chic retail that begins its debut this week. Conceived well before “recession” became a household word, CityCenter is touted as the largest privately funded construction project in North America.

Square feet: 18 million

Construction cost: $8.5 billion

Hotels (three set to open in December): 4

Total rooms opening in December: 5,891

Total hotel rooms when completed: 6,291

Spas: 4

Restaurants, lounges and bars: 42

Casino (150,000 square feet): 1

Residences: 897

Almost as important as the enormousness of it, the project represents a turning point as Vegas leans away from themed resorts and instead focuses on creating a welcoming environment amid a metropolitan hubbub.

“It’s a re-branding of the whole idea of Vegas,” said Libeskind, among the many top-tier architects whose touches you can see throughout CityCenter.

During the planning of CityCenter, its developers, the gaming gurus at MGM Mirage, traveled from Chicago to Shanghai and from Denver to Dubai to try to capture the essence of the urban vibe.

“That kind of energy is what we’ve tried to harness,” said Sven Van Assche, vice president of the MGM Mirage Design Group. “We really had to think outside of our own box. . . . This is a whole new ballgame we’re playing in.”

The 67-acre property is full of parks and plazas lining broad boulevards in the heart of the complex. Sculptures from such world-class artists as Maya Lin (the Vietnam Veterans Memorial) and Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen add to the metropolitan mood.

In recent months, however, the mood hasn’t been as frenetic as it once was. Visitors haven’t forsaken Vegas, but they haven’t embraced it with the same fervor, either. Although September’s visitor count rose more than 4%, thanks largely to more traffic from Southern California, it followed 17 straight months of declines. Gaming revenues through September were down 12% year over year in Clark County.

Far from ignoring the bad news, MGM Mirage Chief Executive Jim Murren thinks CityCenter is a giant life preserver for southern Nevada.

“I can’t think of a better time to launch the most important development in the state’s history,” he said. “It’s a gift to the community . . . at a time when the community needs it.”

Here is a look at the components of CityCenter. The first set of room rates contains introductory offers; the second set, researched in mid-November, reflects the lowest rates available for Jan. 16, a three-day weekend for many.


Dec. 1

Vdara will be the first property to open at CityCenter. This 57-story hotel is at the back of the development, just a few steps from the northern lobby of Aria Resort & Casino and linked to Bellagio by a covered walkway. Gaming- and tobacco-free Vdara will likely appeal to those who want the feel of Vegas without the noise and smoke.

Vdara’s 1,495 suites, from 500 to 1,650 square feet, all with full kitchens, are available to rent by the night or to purchase.

The hotel, which has a bright, contemporary feel, features the standard Sin City amenities, including a pool and an 18,000-square-foot spa on two levels.

Silk Road, its ground-floor restaurant, will evolve throughout the day from a quiet place for coffee and a croissant in the morning to a full-service restaurant for lunch and dinner to a hip nightclub during the wee hours. Some guests will recognize the hotel’s executive chef, Martin Heierling, from Sensi, his restaurant next door at Bellagio.

2600 W. Harmon Ave.; (866) 745-7767, Opening specials from $129; Jan. 16 weekend from $229. Purchase prices begin at $443,000.


Dec. 3

The eye-catching Crystals, a shopping and entertainment district that fronts Las Vegas Boulevard, features A-list stores, said general manager Farid Matraki.

“God knows that Las Vegas doesn’t need another mall, so Crystals is going to be a very, very unique destination,” Matraki said.

Its half-a-million square feet will feature the boutiques of such designers as Roberto Cavalli, Carolina Herrera and Ermenegildo Zegna.

“Even if you don’t want to go to Lanvin [opening in 2010] and buy an $800 T-shirt, you still can come here,” Matraki said. “You still can eat. You still can people-watch.”

A great place for doing that is from the terrace of Mastro’s Ocean Club. The terrace, situated in an abstract “treehouse,” overlooks carpets of real flowers and an innovative water fountain with ever-evolving ice sculptures.

A monorail will link the shopping center to neighboring Bellagio to the north and Monte Carlo to the south.

Mandarin Oriental

Dec. 4

Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas will be the Hong Kong-based chain’s second West Coast property. (The other is in San Francisco.) The sky lobby on the 23rd floor divides the tower, with residential units above and hotel rooms and suites below.

The rooms feature modern, Asian-inspired design. General Manager Rajesh Jhingon expects the hotel to draw discerning customers who appreciate “the mystique of the [Mandarin] brand.”

“Bellagio and the Aria and the Wynn -- etc., etc. -- are casino hotels with 4,000 to 5,000 rooms each. They have a different model,” he said. “I have a 392-room hotel. It’s got a totally different paradigm.”

During a Nov. 13 interview, Jhingon acknowledged that the hotel, then advertising a $545-a-night rate that was more than twice that of his closest competitors, might need to be more flexible in pricing. Two days later, the price had dropped to $325.

“People will want to pay that extra premium [for] the tangible and intangible service elements that they actually receive,” he said.

3752 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; (702) 590-8888 or (888) 881-9578 (reservations); Opening rates from $295; Jan. 16 weekend, $325.

Aria Resort & Casino

Dec. 16

With 4,004 rooms, Aria is the largest hotel at CityCenter and the only one with a casino. Guests are welcomed at two bright and bold entries. The reception lobby features a Maya Lin silver sculpture of the Colorado River, and the northern lobby showcases four brightly illuminated translucent walls of water.

The hotel features nine restaurants, some of them by top chefs making their first forays into Las Vegas.

“The chef talent out here is pretty inspiring,” said Shawn McClain, who, for the first time, is venturing outside Chicago, where he has three distinctive restaurants. Unique offerings at Sage, his Vegas property, will include a scallops-and-oxtail dish and a foie gras custard brûlée.

Aria is also home to “Viva Elvis,” Cirque du Soleil’s seventh Las Vegas production-in-residence.

Nancy Nitchse, the chief concierge, said this feature is generating the biggest buzz. The production is a tribute to Presley’s life and music and will include rare, never-before-seen footage of the King, she said. Ticketmaster says “Viva Elvis” performances begin Dec. 18. Ticket prices start about $95.

3730 Las Vegas Blvd. S.,, (866) 359-7757. Opening rates from $149; Jan. 16 weekend from $259.

Veer Towers


The aptly named Veer Towers is CityCenter’s sole “residents only” property and possibly its most architecturally interesting: The two structures lean in opposite directions. Architect Helmut Jahn designed them that way so the 37-story towers are infinitely more stable than their distant Italian cousin in Pisa.

Only owners can access amenities such as the infinity pools atop both buildings. But the lobbies will be open to the public. Units are priced from $348,000.

Harmon Hotel

Late 2010

The lights are on at the Harmon Hotel, but nobody’s home. With its curvilinear exterior of blue glass, it’s a knockout. Originally planned to rise 49 stories, the hotel was downsized to 28 floors after building inspectors discovered improperly installed rebar on some of the upper floors. Hotel officials decided earlier this year to eliminate the Harmon’s condo component, leaving a 400-room hotel.

When the property opens, it will be a stubby stepsister to other members of the CityCenter family. The hotel will feature a Mr. Chow restaurant and “whenever, wherever” butler service.