Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

April 4, 2007

City Center: Visiting the Sales Pavilion

Posted by Hunter

We all know the base genetics of MGM Mirage's City Center development - a mixed use project across 76 acres on a prime piece of Las Vegas Strip real estate. Multiple hotels, gaming, restaurants, retail and condos all coming together in an effort to master plan an miniature city.

The construction cranes are crawling over the property and the 4,000 room hotel/casino that will anchor site is up beyond the 11th floor. A live Web cam of the construction is on the official Web site. Also, MGM MIRAGE provided me with some photos and renderings of the project. Some may be familiar and others new.

I was able to tour the sales pavilion that has been a key tool in allowing MGM Mirage to almost completely sell out one of their condo developments (The Residences at Mandarin Oriental). Along with the tour some questions were answered about some of the other components of the project.

Keep reading after the jump for some more thoughts on what I saw.

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City Center Skyline Rendering

City Center is often described with these soaring descriptions of a life altering experience - 'Las Vegas will never be the same' is a constant refrain. These kinds of statements immediately peg my 'skeptic-o-meter' and generally I have a harder time buying in when I hear that kind of stuff. Despite coming in with these high expectations I can honestly say that I left the pavilion with a higher opinion of City Center than when I arrived. I'm going to try to explain why.

Now, the vast majority of the early literature and information on the project has focused around the condos. No big surprise - they have to sell these things and people want to see what they will look like. The various towers feature different styles, price points and amenities. I'm not going to go into too much detail on the various condo offerings but here's the nickel tour - please note that I walked through the model units so I do have a good idea what the various condos look like inside.

* Residences at Mandarin Oriental (MGM Rendering) - The most expensive of the bunch and practically sold out, the Mandarin units were very popular with top MGM Mirage managers including chairman Terry Lanni. These units are the top half of the Mandarin tower (the hotel is underneath them and the sky-lobby that is visible in the renderings). These are decked out with the nicest of everything and the quality of the finishes was head and shoulders above the other units. The facilities are owned by MGM Mirage and operated by Mandarin Oriental.

* Vdara (Rendering, Rendering 2, Pool Rendering, Exterior Rendering, Living Room, Bedroom, Living Room, Studio Kitchen) - A new brand that will be owned and operated by MGM Mirage, Vdara is a condo-hotel with about 1,500 units and all the amenities of a mega-resort. Vdara is being built adjacent to Bellagio's Spa Tower.

* The Harmon (Veer and Harmon Rendering) - The Harmon Hotel and Residences is the hipper, less exclusive (and less expensive) take on a hotel+condo tower (with the Mandarin being the big brother). Owned by MGM Mirage, The Harmon will be operated by the Light Group, who run Light, Fix, Stack, Caramel, Jet and other ventures for MGM Mirage at properties like Bellagio and The Mirage. This tower is located on the northeastern corner of the development.

* Veer Towers (Veer Models, Veer and Harmon Rendering) - Veer features two, condo-only towers rising above the retail mall. The towers are designed to lean, hence the name. Owned and operated by MGM Mirage, each tower will feature about 350 units. This development features a more modern and sleek sense of interior design.


Daniel Libeskind's 'retail and entertainment district' sits between The Harmon and Mandarin, encapsulates Veer and directs people back towards the City Center casino hotel. That alone makes this a key part of the development but from the small sliver I saw, it looks like it will be an interesting attraction by itself. Generally, shopping malls don't do that much to excite me. Even some semi-interesting ideas like the Forum Shops (in their day) are still just a set of stores.

Now, the drawings for the mall have been few and far between - the official materials only include the outside bits - a set of jagged corners and geometric shapes.

In the materials I got a look at were several drawings from inside the retail area - large sweeping open spaces that intrigued me. Multiple levels all visible from a grand common area. Water moving between levels. It looked neat and this was a rough drawing.

Who knows what the mean by throwing the term 'entertainment' in there. The lone mime making the kids laugh and the drunks stare? Hopefully something better than cheesy talking statues in oversized fountains.

City Center Hotel (Hotel Rendering, Under Construction)

The 4,000 room hotel-casino that will anchor City Center (currently called the 'City Center Hotel' - I'm assuming they're going to change this) is the bit that interests me the most. It's also the bit for which we have the least info it seems.

We do know it is a 61-story building, designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. The lobby is described as a three story atrium - reminiscent of some great Manhattan hotels of the last century. The design features a lot of natural light, glass, steel and other materials that lend a somewhat modern feel. The word on the street is that several significant design details have yet to be revealed. Personally, I am entranced by the the floor-plan for the tower - it's a welcome departure from the Y-Wing structure so common on the Strip.

They have committed to a level of quality and service that is comparable to Bellagio so I assume that means they are hoping for a five star/five diamond setup in a best case scenario.

I'm hoping they hit their high quality bar, though a 4,000 room hotel is a challenge to put together even for a mediocre level of service. Bellagio seems to do okay in this department so I have hope.

Anyone that can shed additional light on the hotel or has information to share, named or anonymously - I'd love to hear from you.

Semi-Announced Features

* WET Design - The builders of the 'Fountains of Bellagio' have hinted at a major new installation at City Center, though this one is principally indoors. That's pretty much it as far as info at this point.

* Cirque du Soleil - We know they will have an Elvis based show at City Center - the theater is directly adjacent to the main hotel building - a stumpy little stacked design.

That's it for now. We'll be checking in with project updates on a regular basis, along with any construction updates from mike_ch or others. If anyone has any additional info to share, let 'er rip. Also, I have a couple of MGM Mirage contacts that I can fire off questions to if we need some follow-up.


Read archived comments (19 so far)
April 4, 2007 9:09 PM Posted by mike_ch

Mandarin and Harmon would be welcome condo additions to any MGM project. I wish that the rest of the facility didn't continue to look like a corporate headquarters, though. The actual building going up has the same footprint of the renders but never looks quite the same to me. We'll have to see over time. I don't want to stay in a giant office building, though, no matter who built it.

Out of those pictures the one that looks kind of weak is Vdara which looks too much like the hotel for my tastes. Then again, Cosmopolitan will be going in immediately nearby so maybe they've been deliberately choosing their styles to make the whole corridor look like it naturally blends in. It would be nice if MGM and the Cosmo people would occasionally look over each other's shoulder to see what the other is doing and adjust their plans for the are accordingly. That way you don't have something shocking like Caesars ten years ago when each owner's add-on looked radically different from the last.

April 4, 2007 9:13 PM Posted by Hunter

To me, a huge part of how much I take to the exterior of these buildings will be what kinds and qualities of materials they use for the exteriors/curtain wall/etc... of these buildings.

I am hoping they don't go cheap and instead put some serious bucks into these materials. You can tell when you walk up to the base of a building if it was made out of marble or granite vs. something like styrofoam covered in spray paint.

April 5, 2007 6:15 AM Posted by Brian Fey

Nice write up! Well they are already installing the outside glass on PCC's main hotel. A picture of it can be found here...

Just scroll down, and its the first major picture you'll come to.

April 5, 2007 11:26 AM Posted by Leonard Stern

Hunter: I told you that MGM/MIRAGE were keeping the final exterior window wall material details/design on all of the towers very close to the vest. They recently even had all of CityCenter's renderings removed/pulled from the VT&T website. That's why the scale models do not reflect the accurate skin finishes (they incorporate interior illumination instead for effect), nor do the many CAD renderings "released" thus far indicate specific wall details. However, with each new rendering, particularly with the Pelli tower, you can see more + more of the glazing detail. From what I've seen myself, the sample "test" glazing that has recently been installed on the Pelli tower does not represent the final wall design since Pelli almost always uses metal mullions + decorative horizontal mulls on his reflective glass facades (i.e. Petronas, etc.) + the facade studies that I have seen are more intricate than the sample glazing that has been put up. VEER will undoubtedly have the most dramatic of any of the exterior window wall facades since Jahn is a master at using multiple finishes + varying types of glazing/spandrel materials. After working with Jahn for almost ten years, I can assure you he will not compromise with clients on exterior materials based on his design, even if it affects [the] budget. I've been in meetings with him on several occasions where the client wanted to significantly reduce costs since [Jahn's] window wall design was way too costly + he was being pressured to redesign the facade. Jahn prompty stormed out of the meeting telling the owners that he will not change a single thing, subsequently he always got his way + the completed building was exactly as he originally designed it! Helmut Jahn can afford to be a prima donna, he has earned that reputation. mike_ch, Vdara is not a "weak" design, although I guess that would be considered subjective, it will incorporate an ultra-slick facade that at least introduces horizontal "channels" separating the two types of glazing, not just a big hunk of reflective glass with cheap-looking horizontal bands as used in both WLV/Encore + Trump. It also has an interesting curvilinear form factor + footprint as well. CityCenter's biggest problem is lack of site development area since they are squeezing 18M s.f. of high + low-rise buildings into a very limited site. They definitely would benefit from an additional 25+ acres or so in developing the masterplan.

April 5, 2007 12:13 PM Posted by detroit1051

Brian, thanks for the link to Skyscraper. I'll check it for updates regularly. I like the color of the glass/horizontal bands. Instead of being garish like Trump's gold or even Wynn's brown, it has the look of, what do they call it, "understated elegance".

April 5, 2007 12:53 PM Posted by Dave

Outstanding write-up, Hunter. It's interesting that the City Center Hotel looks so much different from the old tri-form in its rendering, yet like Martin Stern's ground-breaking design has a central service core. Instead of being the hub of three towers, the center is at the intersection of two sloping buildings. At least that's how it looked at the last rendering I saw.

A few months ago one of the MGM Mirage people specifically told me (and sketched an illustrative drawing for me) that Pelli had taken on the same challange as Stern and others in designing an efficient core structure, and had solved it in a slightly different way. From what I can gather from various conversations, this was the whole point of bringing in "outside" architects--they're building the same basic building types as before (lodging, entertainment, retail), but considering the challenges they raise from a fresh perspective.

If it "works," MGM Mirage will be hailed as a courageously visionary company for moving away from the tried-and-true formula for casino design. If not, people will say that casinos have been built like they have for the past 20 years for a reason.

April 5, 2007 3:21 PM Posted by Leonard Stern

Dave: I'm actually quite amazed that you, or someone else here, has not been this observant already (or otherwise YOU must be somehow connected to the architectural field yourself in order to recognize this) + are indeed totally correct in that Pelli has incorporated a 'central core' elevator/services design principle in his tower by using a very unique solution, only taking it to a completely new level than my father's previous "Y-form" floorplate designs of the past. Pelli has managed to still utilize the same basic efficient concept that my father pioneered 40 years ago, however, he [Pelli] has successfully been able to integrate two curvilinear stuctures which outwardly do NOT appear to actually share the 'central common core' design concept, however they indeed do! I had intended to bring this point to the attention of the regular contributors on this blog earlier, however I decided to wait until after MGM/MIRAGE officially released the floorplans for the Pelli tower to make my point due to my access to sensitive design information from my inside sources. Since I have personally viewed the design development drawings, current working drawings which obviously include the floorplans for the tower from the original concept stage on, I can confirm that you are 100% accurate in your analysis. I really like Pelli's solution + how he was able to evolve the 'central core' concept in order to create a complex curve intersecting tower design that doesn't have the appearance of actually following my father's original 'central core' concept of the Y-form (or the cross-form central common core concept floorplate as with the MGM Grand). Pelli's tower will be an absolute architectural masterpiece, both inside + out when completed. I personally have worked with his office from 1986-1990 on major high-rise projects. FYI - The interior scheme for Pelli's tower is ultra-modern in keeping with the exterior + a complete departure from ANY of the leading luxury gaming properties EVER constructed here before! Lots of steel + glass, really cool. Wynn's joints, including Encore, will honestly end up looking like nothing more than an upsale brothel by comparsion. Everybody in the industry is already aware that the exterior curtain wall of both WLV/Encore is a 1980's "sunbelt" design. Good luck Steve, after CityCenter opens your joints will be nothing but typical Wynn "over-rated" garbage! Kudos to Kerkorian for leaving his legacy by taking the initiative in building such an incredible contribution of architectural excellence that will set the standard + raise the bar forever for the future of Las Vegas architecture. I include Cosmo + Bruce Eichner in the equation, because it is being developed direclty adjacent, although unrelated to, CityCenter + by bringing in Arquitectonica to design their first [real] Las Vegas project! The ONLY first-rate top architectural firm that is not in some way connected to these two projects is SOM.

April 5, 2007 5:48 PM Posted by Tom M

Great update Hunter. I really enjoy reading this stuff even though I am not a design/architectural expert. I have not been to Vegas in over 4 years and so much has changed that it is hard to keep up with it all. One thing that really concerns me is the use of prime strip frontage for condo development. I see this as a major long term mistake for short term gain. Given the volatile nature of casino business, I don't understand why anyone would permanently consign a valuable portion of the strip to permanent owners. Just see how tough it was to deal with the Jockey Club in developing this part of the strip. I also don't like the layout of the City Center site. I think it is a mistake to put the hotel/condos up near the strip and block the view of the main resort. Otherwise I look forward to returning soon to see the many ongoing changes in Las Vegas.

April 5, 2007 5:52 PM Posted by Chris

I am a little curious about the decision to make CityCenter the ultra-modern behemoth they seem to be making it into. A 3-story atrium filled with steel & glass and natural light makes me think of an airport concourse, not a luxury hotel. "Intimacy" is a buzzword in hospitality today, and I certainly don't get that feeling from these descriptions of CityCenter. While I know Leonard intended "Upscale Brothel" to be an insult, those words actually conjur up a greater sense of service and comfort to me than "Steel & Glass" do.

The exterior design has also disappointed me in the sense that it seems completely devoid of color. I don't know anything about glass so I will withhold judgment on the exterior until I see the actual surfaces on the towers reflecting natural light, which may turn out to be quite colorful and beautiful, but the latest renderings all look like a lot of grey to me.

April 5, 2007 8:08 PM Posted by charlie

I never have been a big fan of Wynn's bronze reflective glass. I've wondered what it would look like in a different color??? Maybe clear with a faint hint of silver or even white.

Anyone really good with graphics software that could offer up Wynn in a new palette of color options?

Come on Leonard, time to spill the beans about City Center (the tower does appear to have an interlocking CC. Does this represent City Center? What's the secret???

Or...Chanel, The "Corpus Christi" (named after the not so glamorous wannabe Texas resort town, t

April 5, 2007 8:39 PM Posted by mike_ch

When you combine glass, steel, and Pelli you have me immediately thinking of buildings I wouldn't want to spend my vacation in.

Particularly, 1500 Louisiana (formerly known as the Enron headquarters), Petronas Towers, or the big glass box he's going to have put on top of a piece of classic architecture.

Pelli's had a few hits, I love his Wells Fargo building in MN, but the more I hear about PCC the more it sounds like one of his glass-heavy corporate HQs morphed into a hotel.

April 6, 2007 9:30 AM Posted by soled

I'm not expert, either, and I have been fascinated with this project, but I do have to agree this has 'corporate office' written all over it.

I can appreciate architects falling in love with mastering the challenges this project faces, and I can understand their anticipation to admire the departure for steel and glass into the hotel industry. But as an amateur I can't gather up much emotion for this myself. On the other hand, crafted stone and beautiful Italian tile and marble, as well as quality woods exude warmth and comfort and offer an invitation to me, the vacationer, that it apparently doesn't extend to architects.

Glass and steel are still cold and calculating materials that work best in smaller quantities, and I have no doubt they touch something challenging and find something appreciative in the logical, mathematical soul of the architect. They just don't stimulate warmth and passion in the people who will be filling the rooms and casinos-the tourists looking for fun and relaxation.

April 6, 2007 10:43 AM Posted by soled

I'm not expert, either, and I have been fascinated with this project, but I do have to agree this has 'corporate office' written all over it.

I can appreciate architects falling in love with mastering the challenges this project faces, and I can understand their anticipation to admire the departure for steel and glass into the hotel industry. But as an amateur I can't gather up much emotion for this myself. On the other hand, crafted stone and beautiful Italian tile and marble, as well as quality woods exude warmth and comfort and offer an invitation to me, the vacationer, that it apparently doesn't extend to architects.

Glass and steel are still cold and calculating materials that work best in smaller quantities, and I have no doubt they touch something challenging and find something appreciative in the logical, mathematical soul of the architect. They just don't stimulate warmth and passion in the people who will be filling the rooms and casinos-the tourists looking for fun and relaxation.

April 6, 2007 1:30 PM Posted by Tom M

I too don't like the glass and steel design typical of modernist architecture. However, I am not ready to write off this design yet since so much of the exterior detail is unknown. It could end up looking a little too corporate or it could still be spectacular. My favorite is still the Bellagio design wise. I too prefer stone/wood as a primary design element, especially in a resort. But since Vegas is soo surreal, any good design can work there. I still think the overall site plan is poor and may reflect the fact that there is not one overall design vision that is taking precedent.

April 6, 2007 5:10 PM Posted by charlie

Quick thoughts on CityCenter...

Do arrivals pick-up on the top roadway and departures on the bottom, or is it vice-versa?

Do MGM Platinum & Executive Platinum members get to check-in at the front of the line?

The Porte Cochere / Pool Deck is a really classy touch. Nothing like smelling exaust fumes and listening to car horns and the valet whistle while sitting by the pool. Definitely Center of the City.

Its really awesome design, its just to much program in such a small footprint. Like many house blueprints, they are always defined at some perspective that never exists - 100 yards. (ie, the backyard of the house across the street).

All of the current CC perspectives are from a helicopter. What will it look like at ground level on The Strip?

April 11, 2007 6:12 PM Posted by Hunter

Steve Friess of The Strip Podcast also got a tour recently.

One interesting tidbit is the info on what WET has planned for City Center.

April 11, 2007 7:29 PM Posted by John

I took a tour of the sales pavilion and all I can say is, wow. The pavilion itself was incredible and was ten times more posh than I had anticipated. However, it looks like The Harmon is really turning into weak link of the project. There is little knowledge of what qualities the building will have that sets it aside from the Mandarin, the main resort hotel, and, more importantly, the Cosmopolitan which is going for the same market. The development will benefit, though, from the death of the W Las Vegas project.

I was impressed, however, at the level of service provided to a small time potential client, like myself, at the SALES pavilion. Complimentary espresso bars, and complimentary limousines to the project's largest competitor. If this ultra-luxury level of service is carried out to the main resort will really be "something". To really sum everything up, when I was traveling down the Strip thinking about project, I was skeptical. However, on the limo ride back, I was excited and now I can't wait to see this thing in November 2009. Maybe it will be my own little birthday present that year.

April 12, 2007 10:05 AM Posted by Leonard Stern

John: Now maybe you can appreciate what I have been saying all along - CityCenter is the result of some of the top creative minds in the country + the UK. This is the quality of fine architecture that only world-renowned designers can achieve. Steve should learn quite a lot from the CityCenter experience, by hiring COMPETENT people at the top of their game in the future! MGM/MIRAGE must be commended for taking this magnitude of financial risk by bringing in only the finest architectural firms out there. Just integrating all of these "mega-egos" on a single project is an amazing feat in itself.

July 20, 2008 3:02 AM Posted by Jerry

One question,as I understand, the Wynn Las Vegas' glass was manufactured by AFGD in Toronto, which since has closed its oprtations. Do anyone have any information about Encore's glass manufacturer?