Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

I love big cities. I'd much rather ride a subway than sit on a beach. I love museums and cultural events, great restaurants and urban activity.

New York is one of my favorites. If I had to live outside the US, I'd probably settle in London. I've been lucky enough to see Cairo, Jerusalem, Rome, Paris, Chicago, Istanbul and much of the rest of the world. Great cities are complicated, charming, messy, crowded, contradictory... and wonderful.

MGM Mirage is trying to replicate the best bits of those experiences in a new project opening soon on the Las Vegas Strip - CityCenter.

This past week, your humble host was given the opportunity to tour part of this new hospitality complex - 67 acres at the heart of the Las Vegas Strip, located between Bellagio and Monte Carlo.

My experiences on that tour are after the jump - enjoy. CityCenter will be a hot topic of discussion for months if not years. I can't wait until you all can share your own thoughts.

Update: We're not allowed to publish the actual map but Chuckmonster traced a copy and posted it on VT. This is the casino level and includes much of the stuff I saw on this tour. His version looks identical to the 'real' one. Enjoy.

It's Wednesday morning and I find myself not at my desk as usual but instead at 4282 Frank Sinatra Drive - the temporary headquarters of MGM Mirage's massive CityCenter project. The lobby is bustling with construction workers, executives, and well dressed PR operatives coming and going. There's an impromptu meeting of Cirque du Soleil officials in one corner, alternating equally between French and English. A TV screen including a countdown clock dominates the check-in desk. I'm here to tour the 18.2 million square foot project that has been going up on the Las Vegas Strip since 2006. I can't wait.

Before we can go onsite, I must don a hard hat, yellow vest and protective eyewear, plus sign a waiver acknowledging that I'm aware it's an active construction project. I chuckle at the irony of the rules - 'no gambling permitted on the job site'.

We enter via the employee access door behind the theater - up a flight of stairs and we empty into ARIA's casino, near the poker room on the far south side of the property. The casino has dark carpet combined with deep wood tones and marble accents. We're quickly ushered outside into 'Casino Circle' - the main way guests will enter ARIA. At the center of the porte-cochere area is a circular fountain - a water feature from WET Design, though far smaller than their work at Bellagio or The Mirage. WET will have five features at CityCenter, some of which include new, exclusive technology.

We're told the street is the same width as Park Avenue in New York City, a stat I've heard a few times now. The landscaping is a mix of native plants and other low-water varieties. This is one area where CityCenter stands in stark contrast to competitors Wynn Las Vegas, Encore and Bellagio - where they are full of lush plantings and gardens, CityCenter makes use of more urban landscaping. On the opposite side of the wide avenue, the resident's entrances for Veer East and Veer West are visible - stylized concrete set in glass.

We move across the drive and toward The Crystals, CityCenter's retail component. The spot where it adjoins ARIA is a small 'pocket park' including a reflecting pool at the base of giant glass wall, the other side of which is the hotel's main registration desk. The park includes outdoor seating for two of the restaurants that are part of the shopping complex, one of which I believe is Eva Longoria's Beso.

We enter the mall which happens to be undergoing a fire suppression system test, complete with loud whooping alarms. My initial impression of the space - it feels a bit like a sterilized airplane hangar - all white with booming acoustics. We're told that to be a part of the project, retailers must either build a flagship or offer unique feature that can't be found elsewhere. Some reports have indicated that about 40% of the storefronts will be open when the ribbon is cut in December, with spaces filling through next spring.

Most of The Crystals remains unexplored but we're already on to the next thing - ARIA's main lobby. Marble floors, high ceilings and on the right, a giant glass wall accented by Maya Lin's Colorado River piece, one of my favorite bits of public art at CityCenter. Huge, yet understated, it frames a magnificent display of natural light, streaming through the glass.

Right off the lobby, restaurants from Julian Serrano, Masayoshi Takayama, and Shawn McClain highlight the interior walkway back into The Crystals while the 'View Bar' stands between hotel guests and the casino floor. The ceiling tiles vary between main walkways and tributaries - the primary design includes rectangular cut-outs of interesting patterns, intended as subtle navigational aides.

When I first saw photos of ARIA's casino, I was concerned that some of the designs seemed a bit disjointed - it was hard to tell if the various components would fit together in a manner that made sense. Also, the space seemed dark - something that surprised me as I'd gotten the impression from various marketing materials that it would include natural light as a design feature. This Web site started to cover casino design and while we do include other topics, that's still at the heart of what we write about.

The ARIA casino floor seemed just as dark as the original photos had shown. Sure, there are patches of light at either side but they seem more the exception than the rule. The dark tones and sleek wood add to a casino floor whose design is reminiscent of Red Rock, M Resort and perhaps even the original game changer, The Mirage. The floor design is simple, straightforward and to the point. Where Wynn designs are whimsical and playful, ARIA's casino seems more button down - the gaming floor is all business - an extension of the modern design we've seen in other MGM Mirage properties over the past few years.

We made our way along the far end of the casino's back wall. Some of CityCenter's technical innovations were pointed out - cooling systems have been integrated into the slot podiums to increase air conditioning efficiency. The building's vents, typically left open during construction, have been sealed to prevent particulate matter from the construction entering the system. On the slot front, I didn't see a single game not 'server based', at least in the bits of the casino that we walked through.

The ~600 seat 24-hour cafe sits along the casino's back wall - the entrance features a rock sculpture backlit and highlighted with running water. Water features are a common thread in ARIA's design - from dripping curtain walls to high-tech fountains. The casino cage is up next - they have designed it to look like a bank vault, complete with fake safe-deposit boxes in the background. The buck stops here perhaps? So they hope.

The main guest elevators are accessed between another belly-up bar and ARIA's version of the Jean-Philippe Patisserie - this time with actual seating, something the Bellagio version miscalculated. The elevator lobbies are open on the opposite end, looking out onto the Harmon porte-cochere. As we continue to move along through the casino we reach the corridor leading to the Sky Suites. This is ARIA's version of Wynn's Tower Suites - separate check-in, high-end gaming, a bar and quick access to several restaurants, one Chinese and the other Thai.

We head up a long flight of stairs to the Promenade Level. Stairs seem to be a theme at CityCenter - elevation changes in the building require the guest to move between floors often. This particular staircase is at a somewhat significant angle - you want to be sure to hold that handrail.

At the top of the stairs is the Gold Lounge, a partnership between Cirque and The Light Group, somewhat similar to REVOLUTION at The Mirage. The lounge looks a bit like a gold birdcage - highly stylized. To the left is the 'Elvis Theater', complete with 'TCB' emblazoned on the doors. Beyond the theater, the business center and convention areas continue to wrap around the ARIA pool deck. Off to the right is the buffet and access to the Spa. Opposite the lounge, towards the front of the building are more fine dining options from Bellagio favorites Michael Mina, Sirio Maccioni and Jean Georges Vongerichten. Both sets of guest elevators offer easy access to the Promenade Level as does the Harmon Circle porte-cochere - guests that want to avoid the casino entirely could do so perhaps easier than at any other property on The Strip.

Back down the stairs and into the casino, we come upon the race and sports book. Combining some of the better elements of the redesigned book at MGM Grand with the comfort of Bellagio's outpost, ARIA has focused on sports over race bettors and also realized that some come just to watch the game. TVs at every angle may make this the top book in town when it comes to comfort and amenities.

Hard marble floors are pervasive at ARIA. Other properties have made use of interspersed carpeting to break up not only the acoustical impact of stone flooring but also to make it easier on women in high heels who are walking across the large expanses. I can't help but wondering how this will impact guests. On additional practical note, I had no cell coverage inside the building at all - I assume repeaters will be added before opening day.

If we'd continued around the back end of the casino we'd be back at the poker room and where we started. Instead, our guide takes us through a well-lit walkway and into the Harmon porte-cochere with access to the downstairs Haze nightclub as well as some additional retail space.

Outside the doors we find a concrete plateau where drivers and cabbies will invariably need a bit of time to adjust to the multitude of options navigating the complex. Between the various ramps and airport-like signage, this is one of my least favorite parts of the project.

A short walk brings us to Vdara, which for the general public will not offer much of anything. Designed as a condo-hotel, the public spaces are minimal with only guest registration, a small bar and the uber-retro (and super trippy cool) design of the Silk Road restaurant open to the public. Be sure to check out the Peter Wegner display in the concierge/elevator lobby - a very cool set of two pieces built with massive amounts of colored paper stacked on end. We're told Vdara is a completely non-smoking property, including the upstairs pool deck. Vdara offers easy access via covered walkway to Bellagio or to the CityCenter tram, depositing guests at both The Crystals and beyond to Monte Carlo.

From Vdara we're ushered back through ARIA and on to the Mandarin Oriental complex. Mandarin guests will arrive at the bottom level for valet and then be ushered up to the 23rd floor sky-lobby. This intimate setting includes floor-to-ceiling picture windows behind the front desk and into the adjacent lounge. The Mandarin bar is off to the right with sweeping Las Vegas Strip views. Pierre Gagnaire's Twist restaurant is to the left down a small corridor. The restaurant is fairly small and overlooks The Crystals retail complex. The wine cellar is accessible via a beautiful glass staircase - the restaurant is a gorgeous, intimate space. Not always one for sometimes pretentious dining rooms, I can't wait to try Twist. Seems like an essential ingredient to a perfect evening.

In general I would say that the Mandarin experience was one of the most impressive parts of the CityCenter complex. Even pre-opening, it is exclusive, intimate and upscale. I'm more interested in trying the Las Vegas Mandarin outpost than ever. I can't imagine the bar being anything but a smash hit, though the small number of seats may translate into an exclusive experience on weekends. Fanny packs likely need not apply.

We were ushered out of the Mandarin and into CityCenter's main self-park garage - an 11,000 space monolith right up against The Strip. The tour was over. After two and a half hours, we'd seen a lot but not nearly everything. My feet had huge blisters from the not-really-broken-in steal toe boots I had to wear. There's a lot to see at CityCenter, without question.

There's no doubt that this is an incredibly important project for MGM Mirage. If you're reading this, you've probably been following it since it was announced. The marketing - 'remember to breathe' - is full of seeming hyperbole. Does CityCenter live up to the hype? I'm sure opinions on this project will be all across the board.

My first inclination was to look at the complex through a casino design lens - I think others that do may come away a bit disappointed. The casino floor, a mere ~150,000 square feet out of 18,200,000 total, seems to be a lateral move, not introducing any significant new design elements or paradigms. If anything, CityCenter is a revolution in Las Vegas *resort design*, not casino design. If the revenue model supported it, the casino would probably be even smaller - perhaps even non-existent. This is not a casino property in the traditional Las Vegas sense. Yes, it has games and machines but they're the least interesting part of the complex.

CityCenter is not an organic urban environment but without a doubt, I had some of the same feelings I get when I'm standing at the foot of the GE Building in Rockefeller Center. The place is massive as hell and incredibly impressive. The Pelli designed ARIA tower is one of my personal favorites on The Strip - it shines brilliantly in the sun, blue glass, concrete and steel. Mandarin has the potential to really cement itself at the top level of service for Las Vegas hotel guests.

There are certain places in other resorts - the lobby at Bellagio, looking out through the glass onto Encore's pool deck near Botero, the atrium at The Mirage - these are places with an incredible sense of identity - unforgettable snapshots of your Vegas experience. Will ARIA and CityCenter have some of these moments? I think so. The glass hotel towers are stunning. The public art scattered throughout adds significant intrigue to the complex. The sheer scale of the buildings evokes strong emotions.

A reporter asked me how CityCenter will impact the future of Las Vegas. That's a tough question to answer. I'm not a fortune teller and my information is only as good (or as bad) as anyone's. There's no doubt in my mind that CityCenter is something new - something different. That's good for the city. Will it be replicated and photocopied like past game-changers were? I have a hard time imagining that.

As much as they may deny it, CityCenter does have a theme, in a manner of speaking. The project's theme is 'vibrant urban center' and it does that exceedingly well. That said, it's still not organic - it was master-planned and then built to serve that purpose. I don't see Harrah's doing their own version across the street - it just wouldn't make much sense: OtherCityCenter? Higher density development may catch on a bit more but probably not to the degree that we see at CityCenter - and that's fine. Las Vegas has always been great about providing choice: many different experiences at all price points - anything a guest could want, no matter their circumstances.

Todd-Avery Lenahan, the wunderkind designer hired to do the guest rooms and spa at Encore, when asked to compare Wynncore to ARIA, gave the Hotel Bel Air and the W Los Angeles as examples - two different hotels that are both very successful... Though in my mind I took his comparison to the W as a bit of a put-down - the Bel Air is classic and one of a kind where the W follows the current trends as they come and go.

I've wondered aloud recently if MGM CEO Jim Murren designed CityCenter to be the kind of place that he'd want to visit if he didn't have to live in Las Vegas. He and his wife are former New Yorkers and combining that fact with his urban planning background in college, I'm curious if he's trying to reshape The Strip to fit that vision. The potential problem with this? He's not a gambler - the business that the city is built on.

That thinking shows at CityCenter - the casino is the least interesting part of the project. Is this the future of Las Vegas or a miscalculation? Time will tell. Gaming's revenue share, relative to hotel, retail, entertainment and F&B has dropped dramatically in the past fifteen years. Will that trend continue or has it reached a new equilibrium? How will that impact resorts designed over the next five to ten years (assuming anyone is building anything)?

I can't wait to see how it unfolds... and in the meantime, I'm booking a few more nights at CityCenter to admire the view.

See you in December.


Read archived comments (51 so far)
November 22, 2009 6:54 PM Posted by Brian Fey

I'll have to let all this soak in, but one thing blaring jumps out to me. You stated in this article, and the podcast, as have other reports, that the 150,000sqft casino is small by Vegas standards. You go on to say, its a small part of City Center, and when compared to total square footage of the overall project, that may be the case. But this will be the 2nd single largest casino floor on the Strip, only trailing behind its fellow family member MGM Grand.

Great article, I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts, I'm sure I'll have much more after I read several others comments over the coming days.

November 22, 2009 7:07 PM Posted by detroit1051

The wait for your report was well worth it. I, like most here, will have to come to CityCenter to understand it and make my own judgment.
The 24 hour cafe really has 600+ seats? That seems overwhelmingly large. I don't think Cafe Bellagio has more than 200 seats at most. Who will fill it, conventioneers?
You mentioned the stairs to the Promenade Level. Are there escalators, or do you need to take an elevator between levels if you don't want to or can't walk?

November 22, 2009 7:16 PM Posted by John

Since we know to some extent that Bobby Baldwin is into the operations of casino-resorts, I wonder if he was in on the decision to make the casino less of a factor in the final product. Hmm.

Really excited for Mandarin though.

November 22, 2009 7:17 PM Posted by Hunter

In the range of most modern Las Vegas casinos, between 100,000 and 150,000 square feet, is that all that different really?

Yes, MGM Grand feels big but that's partly because of its rectangular design - it's a big box. The curved casino setup, like ARIA and Wynn, helps to hide the size.

ARIA's casino felt about the same size inside as Bellagio or Wynn Las Vegas to me.

November 22, 2009 7:18 PM Posted by Hunter

Yes, they acknowledged that the cafe has a large number of seats. That was attributed to popularity of those facilities at Bellagio and others along with the prime placement right off the casino.

As far as stairs vs. escalators - I didn't see escalators but I did see elevators. I'm sure the property is totally handicapped compliant - which is good because the elevation changes are prominent.

November 22, 2009 7:19 PM Posted by John

Brian brings up a fabulous point. Is it just that the casino seemed small compared to everything else that's going on inside the project, or does it just feel smaller?

November 22, 2009 7:24 PM Posted by mike_ch

Well, if Jim Murren designed CityCenter because he wishes he lived in a city with an urban roadmap and a culture scene and a sustainability index somewhere below "near bottom", instead of the laissez-faire sprawlathon he does, then he's a man after my own heart. There's other ways to make positive contributions in such an influential position, but nevermind that.

The problem that I keep coming back to is that no matter how you cut it, it looks like an office tower. And this city has had so many repeat visitors because people see the ground floors of the other hotels and say "gee, I want to see what it's like to stay at that one." Even though I know that rooms at Bellagio are presently pretty aged, you look at all the show elements on the ground (not just the fountains and conservatory but the grounds and the big iron gate and the grand entrance) and it STILL makes me think "Hm! Must be pretty fancy to be a guest here." What makes Paris different than Flamingo? Should be pretty obvious.

Few people will confess that they wish to stay in the one that looks like a Goldman Sachs headquarters.

We'll see, I guess. I'll get a feel of it eventually.

November 22, 2009 7:26 PM Posted by mike_ch

er, meant to say above in regards to that sustainability thing, not below. Should be obvious. :b

Sorry, busy tonight. I'm not reading much of the CC hype (though it doesn't seem like there is much) but your views were something I was looking forward to. Thanks.

November 22, 2009 7:30 PM Posted by Hunter

They're certainly pushing the green/LEED angle pretty hard.

I think it's great that they went that way... but it's not entirely altruistic - they get huge tax breaks as part of that initiative, plus a lot of related PR.

November 22, 2009 7:56 PM Posted by Brian Fey

100 vs 150, might not sound like much, but that another 33% larger. That's sizable for sure.

I think you'd be surprised by the seating capacity of many of these Vegas 24 hour cafes. I bet Bellagio's seats quite a bit more than 200. 600 seats, while it might sound like a ton, probably isn't too far off base, when compared to others like it. I remember Caribe at Mirage, it would seat a LOT of people, Terrace Cafe at Wynn is also very large, especially if you add in the outdoor pool patio area.

There are extensive escalators in the Aria convention center area.

November 22, 2009 8:35 PM Posted by worldpool

hunter will i enjoy the casino size or will i be mad becuse the casino is small dose it have a lot of slot machine and a lot of game tables we can play

November 22, 2009 8:37 PM Posted by donnymac

Thanks for sharing your tour with us Hunter. I cannot wait to see it in January.

November 22, 2009 8:48 PM Posted by Hunter

The casino has approximately the same number of tables and machines as Bellagio, Wynn Las Vegas or Mandalay Bay. There are plenty of playing positions.

November 22, 2009 9:06 PM Posted by worldpool

cool cant wait to see the casino myself

November 22, 2009 9:18 PM Posted by JK

I (like most) am going to wait until I see it in person in March until I decide urban/modern luxury or elegant luxury. I still remember going to Vegas for my first time, and the elegant luxury establishments still give off the aura of the highest end joints. I'm always reminded of that when I watch a movie such as Ocean's 11. I mean, when Bellagio first opened, staying there was something to brag about and now (granted though there are more high end joints in town) if you look at Aria or Vdara, they don't look like a place to brag about staying at (in my opinion). I think this has to do with the modern architecture as compared to the elegant "chocolate curve" that is Wynncore or the romantic atmosphere of Bellagio. Modern to the average visitor doesn't scream luxury, whereas a property like Bellagio or Wynn does. That isn't saying that Aria or Mandarin won't be luxurious, but if they want to grab the attention of those seeking luxury, the first impression of looking up at the buildings won't do it for them.
Even though Wynn said he designed his hotel from the inside-out, he still had the beautiful waterfalls and building (not to mention the name) behind him when it came to attracting the certain kind of clientele he wanted.

November 22, 2009 10:03 PM Posted by mike_ch

If you're looking for big coffee shops, may I suggest:

* Grand Lux (Palazzo / Venetian)
* Bellagio
* New York New York
* Mandalay Bay (massive, never seen it packed, though in recent years as the food started to suck I've seen it mostly ignored.)

Brian is right that Caribe was pretty huge. When MGM renovated it they made a much larger chunk of the room than was really necessary vaguely Asian-themed to represent the noodle shop that is usually stand alone.

November 23, 2009 12:36 AM Posted by Eric Whitaker

I think the comparison, from what I know, have heard, and seen, is in reality that of the Waldorf=Astoria to the Hudson. Wynncore in general is about timeless elegance and comfort, and ARIA will be, so I feel, about simplistic trendy and modernistic design featured comfort.

As an architect, I love modern work, and as such, the structure Pelli has built, like that of Jahn down the street, is amazing and purely fantastic quality and design. The question is when does design give way to genericism and are the chosen architects right for these projects?

I'm even more, I'll say alarmed, now by this review. I'll still reserve judgement til I stay there, but wow. Not a review I was expecting. I'm contemplating my Vdara stay even more now.

I hope I'm wrong, but wow.

November 23, 2009 4:53 AM Posted by detroit1051

The comments by JK and Eric Whitaker add to my questions on how big CityCenter's success will be.
I'm an average bumpkin who equates luxury with the trappings one finds at Bellagio or Wynncore. I'm not sure I'd have the same visceral reactions to a Morgans Hotel Group property like Hudson.
Las Vegas is an escape from every day life for most of the 30 million+ visitors every year, and they (and I) want to feel like they're experiencing the rarified world of the rich and famous. Over-the-top hotels, restaurants and shows add to the illusion. My question is, will Aria and CityCenter create a similar illusion for middle-America visitors?

November 23, 2009 9:44 AM Posted by Jinx

In reference to the casino space, while I tend to look at it as more sq. feet = better, there definitely has to be a point though that too much handicaps the floor as well. Considering CC's focus will be on the high end even for the floor compared to many other properties, more space could ultimately be a deteriment to it. Especially considering square footage is in the top 3. If you consider at one point Encore's design had I believe a 50k sq foot casino floor planned and then was raised to about 75 or 80, there definitely seems to be a saturation point per hotel that makes sense.

November 23, 2009 11:28 AM Posted by parchedearth

Aria has a nice practical design that should work well for conventions. I haven't heard much about the size of the convention space and whether they are really targeting that market (over the typical tourist market). I can envision Aria as an on-strip replacement for the LVHilton/CC. The problem I see, is that gamblers don't want to play in a convention center.

I am starting to see Vdara as an overflow property for both conventions at Aria and guests at Bellagio. I think more guests than they anticipate may end up going over to play at Bellagio (instead of Aria).

MO has the kind of luxurious modern design they should have gone for at Aria. I predict MGM will add a small casino in the MO w/i 2 years.

I'm praying hard that this time they have a tram that actually works out.

November 23, 2009 1:45 PM Posted by detroit1051

Aria has 300,000 sq ft of meeting/conventions space. I'm sure MGM would like to market Bellagio and Aria together for larger conventions.
LVCVA has a link to all the convention space in town.
Here is Aria's info:

November 23, 2009 1:54 PM Posted by Phil

Pictures inside Mandarin Oriental spa from the manufacturer who made some of the product in there. Scroll down.

More pics of City Center sculptures and exterior

November 23, 2009 3:51 PM Posted by billyinlasvegas

I'm glad you like it. I don't think CC is for everyone but it definitely grows on you. From an operations (aka back of the house) standpoint this might be the most efficient design of any MGM Mirage property and that will pay off in the long run.

I share your excitement when it comes to Mandarin, after talking to one of their employees they told me that no one has seen services like theirs in Las Vegas and specifically mentioned Wynncore as the property to beat!

November 23, 2009 5:50 PM Posted by AKQJ10

I'm still torn here. I vividly remember walking into Red Rock upon opening thinking. 'This is how I like my casinos, if it were only a bit more muted in color.' I love that setting as opposed to the flashiness of PH, NYNY, Luxor. But I find myself reading along, painting a picture of how this casino may look, and being disappointed that nothing seems to be setting it apart during its first impression. It is apparent now that I pegged too much hope on the natural light aspect.

November 23, 2009 6:33 PM Posted by charlie

The photos Phil sent of City Center are absolutely stunning. Maybe they should have named Aria - MoMA Resort and Casino. At least the general public would understand what the essence of this place is all about.

Then I think about strolling around the grounds of Aria/City Center in July/August, and it may actually be the hottest place on Earth.

November 23, 2009 7:21 PM Posted by LeoNYC

Hunter, I have a reservation at the MO but I have a question that you probably would be able to answer. Since all the hotel rooms are located bellow the lobby level (23), and the building is so close to the Strip, do you think some of the rooms will be affected by the noise of the traffic?

November 23, 2009 7:25 PM Posted by Hunter

I'm actually not sure. My guess (hope?) is that the glass is sound-proofed enough... or you could request a room facing ARIA or Monte Carlo and avoid it.

November 23, 2009 8:17 PM Posted by LeoNYC

Thanks, Hunter. I do hope the glass is sound-proofed. I found more pics of Aria on the USA Today.

November 25, 2009 1:49 PM Posted by steve_c

I guess I was expecting more of the outdoors to be integrated into the interiors, but I am still interested in the final product. I wonder if any design changes will be necessary once the place is open and they see how the public reacts. Seems a bit of the "same old, same old" to me. I am a bit disappointed that there is no direct pedestrian access between Bellagio and ARIA, it would have been cool to walk from Bellagio through Vdara and into ARIA. The floor plan of the casino really looks like a mashed up version of Bellagio, the back of Mirage, and the arc of Wynn.

I am a bit surprised that there are no escalators to the Promenade Level. Go ahead and call me lazy, but I think escalators are one of the best things about Vegas. Being a little drunk and using staircases sometimes are not the best mix.

Looking forward to ARIA. Bring on the Casino floor photos!

November 25, 2009 9:20 PM Posted by John

There was a question on here (I think) about whether or not you could reach Aria from Mandarin. The answer is yes, though I cannot confirm whether or not they are physically connected to one another.

November 25, 2009 9:53 PM Posted by Hunter

Not sure what that means exactly... Of course, everything in CC is walkable.

Yes, you can walk from MO to ARIA, though I believe you have to go outside to do so,

November 26, 2009 5:37 AM Posted by Andy in MSP

Are they marketing Vdara as more of an expansion to Bellagio than as a piece of City Center? I received an email with this as its subject: "Bellagio Invites you to Experience Vdara at CityCenter with a Special Offer."

November 26, 2009 8:00 AM Posted by John

It seems that way, right? Well, Bellagio sent me an offer to 'Experience Aria' not too long ago as well. So I think they're just using Bellagio to help market CityCenter properties to some extent.

November 26, 2009 9:02 PM Posted by Brian Fey

Steve_C - I totally agree. I can't believe there are no escalators between the 2 levels. If you look at all the major hotels that have different levels of public areas, NYNY, Luxor, Excal, MGM, Venetian, Palazzo, the all have escalators. But the property map, shows stairs, not escalators. Maybe that's why they got the LEED Gold, cause they won't let us lazy people be lazy. And I don't see 1000 people an hour that going to the use the buffet, using an elevator! You'd think for 9 Billion, you could have gotten a few more escalators here and there!

November 28, 2009 2:20 PM Posted by steve_c

I too was wondering if the lack of escalators had anything to do with their LEED certifications. From not seeing the staircases, I can only imagine that this might cause problems when you have the audience exiting the Elvis theater. How easy is the access going to be between the Casino and Promenade levels during busy times?
...and to clarify my earlier post, I was wishing that there had been direct INTERIOR access between the CC properties as well as the MC and Bellagio. The tram will be nifty, but it would have been cool to have an interior sky bridge across Harmon connecting Aria to Vdara.

November 29, 2009 2:29 AM Posted by briguyx

As Hunter makes no mention of a buffet, the cafe may be the cheapest place to grab a meal in CC. The rabble has to eat somewhere!

November 29, 2009 5:45 AM Posted by detroit1051

There is a buffet at Aria on the Promendade Level. It overlooks the pool area. You can see it on Chuckmonster's VT map that Hunter linked:

December 2, 2009 11:18 PM Posted by Kenny

Wow. After City Center is open and all the attention is on that property, the Bellagio is going to get a serious beating from its newest neighbor as well as a major decrease in service and maintenance maybe; no?

December 3, 2009 1:54 AM Posted by mike_ch

I suspect Bellagio's about to set another course where it basically runs in neutral and glides along on name value and location alone. This is sorta what happened for a few years between 2003 and 2006 when the casino was given a refurb.

I know Chuck at VegasTripping seriously believes that Bellagio needs critical help fast because of the condition of their rooms, but the fact is that MGM Grand's rooms are even older, and at last count there's even more of them (I'd wager at least a simple majority of the Spa Tower rooms aren't quite so threadbare as Chuck's older one.)

The fact is that the past two years, MGM spent all their refurbishment money in the wrong direction. Rather than renovate MGM Grand and Bellagio, they've been adding "flat panel rooms" to Excalibur, increasing the quality of Circus tower rooms while making the Manor ones not the nightmarish clownhouse design they were, and replacing Perfectly Serviceable Stuff at Luxor with higher end concept dining like CatHouse and Tender. Replacing RA with LAX was a smart move, but all this other stuff wasn't. Now they have a resort that pretends to appeal to celebrity but many of the rooms in the pyramid are leagues worse than Chuck's Bellagio room last month. Hunter felt like he was sleeping in a military barracks at Luxor, and that was three years ago, so it's even worse now.

Places like Excalibur are okay to have the occasional little wallpaper peel or banged up furniture, it's what people expect at that price level. But they rebuilt their old hotels from bottom-up and are now giving away flatscreen rooms at Excalibur for dirt cheap prices to people who are probably hitting up the food court upstairs more than any restaurant.

The public, which is currently jamming places like Excalibur and Stratosphere during my last visits while leaving joints like Mandalay and Bellagio in droves, would have preferred an Old, Beat Up Luxor to a New, Expensive, Hollywood Luxor. And it would have cost MGM less to give the public what they want.

Someone is going to have to go without while the company tries to conserve it's spending and lower it's debts. That probably means Bellagio is going to maintain heading for a few years while it's bits and baubles fall off and collect dust. Fortunately, it's location is between Vegas Icon Of The Past (Caesars) and Vegas Icon Of The Future (CityCenter) so it probably won't look like a ghost town once Aria and Vdara have chopped down it's Average Daily Rate.

December 3, 2009 4:25 AM Posted by detroit1051

Unfortunately, Mike is probably right about Bellagio treading water for a while. MGM Mirage gave a presentation this week to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. MGM paints a rosy picture, but one of the slides says, "No material capital expenditures forecasted". This doesn't bode well for Bellagio or for MGM Grand for that matter.

December 3, 2009 4:35 AM Posted by detroit1051

Crystals opens today. What do you West Coasters think of this quote:
"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."

A little hyperbole for the grand opening??

December 3, 2009 9:03 AM Posted by Mike P.

What's the normal interval for hotel room renovations? It seems to be around 6-8 years for strip properties, which is arguably too long when operators do whatever they must to keep occupancy levels at 90%+.

IIRC Bellagio's rooms were redone during spa tower construction in 2004-5 (?) so they probably wouldn't have been touched again until 2010-11 even if MGM had the money. Bellagio's suites were remodeled in 2007 and they still look fine.

We got a great rate on a Penthouse suite at Bellagio in January, so mike_ch's prediction that ADRs there will take a hit is probably coming true already. With free transportation and a nice semi-VIP reception area thrown in a suite at Bellagio is probably the best deal in town right now. Don't tell anyone.

Maybe I'm being too gloomy this morning, but I can't help thinking that CC is going to do to MGM what Bellagio did to Mirage and for pretty much the same reason. Murren's been the driving force behind CC to an extent I hadn't realized, and he really seems to believe the hype about creating a vibrant urban environment. Aria might end up being a pretty good casino-hotel and I'm sure the Mandarin will appeal to Mandarin clientele, but if they're successful it won't be because people really want to be in the center of a city when they come to Vegas.

December 3, 2009 11:32 AM Posted by parchedearth

Did Apple bail on their Crystal's store? Also interesting that with all the planned residential units, they couldn't get a grocery store (although they tried for Whole Foods). Does anyone know where the closest full-sized grocery store is? (the Town Square area?)

Vdara was referred to by an MGM spokesperson this morning as being a less expensive alternative for guests who would like to stay at Bellagio. My thinking has always been that Bellagio should remain the luxury flagship property and that Aria should be positioned as a solid mid to high-end property for conventions. Viewing Vdara as a step down from Bellagio is certainly a step in this direction.

December 3, 2009 1:01 PM Posted by GregoryZephyr

I am probably biased since I live in San Francisco but I've never thought of LA as being the retail epicenter of the West Coast. Rodeo Drive, maybe. Of course, SoCal probably has the highest retail sales figures due to population size but I don't know that many people that go to LA specifically for shopping. There's plenty of malls and stores but having been there many times, the shopping experience is totally different than Chicago's Michigan Ave or SF's Union Square. If Chrystals can replicate those experiences it could attract a lot of visitors who want a unique shopping experience not just another mall.

As to grocery stores: I think the closest would be either a couple miles West on either Flamingo or Trop. As I recall there is also a grocery store to the East on Sands. But, with Harmon going over the freeway straight out of CC, stores on West Flamingo or West Tropicana might be the easiest to get to--but any of them require a car trip. (Or a bus--I'm sure the residents will be making good use of public transit.)

December 3, 2009 1:49 PM Posted by detroit1051

Parchedearth, I used to shop at a 24 hour Albertson's on Flamingo and Maryland Parkway, not a long drive from the Strip.
Even Crystals' website doesn't list Apple as a retailer. I thought that was a done deal.

December 3, 2009 4:07 PM Posted by mike_ch

There's also a Vons at Tropicana and Maryland. That was what I immediately thought of when this question was asked.

Greg, as a bus rider, I had to chuckle at your suggesting that residents will be using transit. Probably not, that the nearest station is either at Bally's/Caesars or NYNY/Tropicana. The Deuce might stop outside of the Crystals for all I know, but that bus is priced to be avoided by frequent riders. The ACE Gold Line stops at Bellagio, but I'm curious to see how well the RTC can timely run a "rapid transit" line on the Strip without it's own dedicated lane. Rapid isn't the word I'd use to describe the traffic.

Given that Whole Foods wasn't interested, I'm surprised that it sounds like MGM didn't even talk to Trader Joe's or Fresh & Easy, both are also green-focused retailers with a heavy focus on store-label foods. Fresh & Easy in particular is a fan of having LEED stores (including the hybrid parking spaces like CityCenter) and low energy designs with small footprint stores.

But then maybe they were specifically going for the Snob Appeal and god knows that Whole Foods has that more than any others. My hotel during my Canadian trip was right next to a Whole Foods that is, according to locals, nuts with Hollywood hubub anytime any stars are in town filming a movie that went over there for tax credits. It's pretty much the only store there the stars will go to, and you aren't going to see photos of Bradgelina outside of Trader Joe's.

December 3, 2009 5:45 PM Posted by Kenny

Its going to be hard for me to see the Bellagio being treated like Paris if MGM starts slacking again (03-06).

December 4, 2009 3:52 AM Posted by Brian Fey

I don't think Apple bailed, but others have heard that they did. I just think they are taking their time, and will open later. Apple sites I follow, have said nothing about them pulling out.

December 4, 2009 7:56 AM Posted by Hunter

You can't pull out if you were never in to begin with.

Can anyone show me a place where either Apple or MGM ever said publicly they would be in The Crystals?

As far as I can tell, this never graduated above rumor status and we all know those are rampant in Apple-land. Even those rumors have been very quiet for quite some time.

I've never got a confirm from MGM people and I've asked a few times in the past six months. I have doubts.

December 4, 2009 11:01 AM Posted by detroit1051

Hunter is right about Apple. There was one story in early June, 2008 which served as the springboard for all the subsequent rumors:
When a story starts, "According to people familiar with the project, Apple has been selected...", beware.

December 4, 2009 12:29 PM Posted by mike_ch

I don't believe Apple was ever in.

ifoAppleStore, a site that's a bit OCD about the Apple Stores and how they work, also though there was a store, and they're usually a bit more "on" with the rumours than the general-purpose Apple sites like AppleInsider (ThinkSecret, of course, was a little TOO accurate.)

Though their map of future stores still lists a Crystals location, updated in October talking about how there's no Apple branding on the Crystals building itself but still optimistic it would open, their list page now shows it as cancelled. It talks about how Apple's space will appear and ends with Apple not as a tenant, so I guess this is a fairly recent decision. With the talk about windows facing the Boulevard, I can guess Apple was interested in one of those big storefronts in the front of the mall but probably balked at some point given how reluctant MGM has been to renegotiate in the economy.