I've already shared some of the details that were released at the press conference, but I'd like to talk more about some of the things the speakers said and share a few of my thoughts.
I'll linq you after the jump.
The Linq press conference today was nothing if not informative. They held it in Pure at Caesars Palace, giving me a chance to take the not-so-shortcut door in the self-park elevator lobby.
The press conference featured several speakers, each of which gave their own twist on the project, and I think the lineup says a great deal about Caesars' approach. First,Caesars Senior VP Jan Jones talked Big Picture. She talked about how this was the first major development project in Vegas since the Big Meltdown (well, CityCenter opened in 2009 and Cosmopolitan in 2010, but I see where she's going with this). She talked about how the company did research to see what people wanted. They concluded that they didn't want "another big box," that instead they wanted "new entertainment, new attractions." Can't argue with her there.
The most interesting number she shared is that last year 20 million people walked past the site that will become Linq. That means more than half of the visitors to Las Vegas are in the neighborhood. She's seeing this as a Meatpacking District (NYC), Grove (LA), or LA Live! (LA) type project.
Next up, Rick Mazer, president of Harrah's Las Vegas, Flamingo, Imperial Palace, Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon and O'Sheas spoke very briefly about how the project would let employees "do what they do best, provide the best customer service in the industry." He also shared that the Margaritaville casino is opening on October 1.
He then cued up a video that referred to the site as "the heart of the city," "the fifty-yard line," and a place where history (shots of classic Flamingo, Caesars Palace) and imagination collide.
Neat. He then introduced Greg Miller, the Senior VP of Development for Caesars. Miller came to Caesars from Universal Studios. He talked about "creating a place where people can connect," and "tapping into the magic of what makes Las Vegas great." It's an observation wheel, or a sky wheel, not a ferris wheel.
I'd take issue with his claim that right now the Strip "lacks a meeting place." I've been meeting people at various Strip locations for about ten years. I understand what he's getting at--that there isn't an outdoor shopping/dining district, but I think that saying this is something totally new is taking it just a little too far.
Most important, Miller says all the money they need is already in the bank.
We then heard from David Codiga, who also spent time at Universal Studios, who is the executive director of Project Linq--the guy ultimately in charge of getting it built. He spoke mostly about the (NOT a ferris wheel) High Roller.
At the rate this is going, I wish Harvey Korman was still around so that they could bring him on. Every time someone called it a ferris wheel, he'd say, "observation wheel" in that "Hedley" tone of voice.
The sky wheel is bigger than the London eye, has 28 cabins (not pods) that hold 40 people and can accommodate 1,120 people at a time. One revolution takes 30 minutes. It later came out that several price points have been discussed, and it will almost surely cost less than $20 to ride this thing. You'll also be able to "charter" a cabin.
Next, Miller introduced Paul Kurzawa, COO of Caruso Affiliated, who is "advising on design" and is fully responsible for leasing to tenants and managing Linq. So those who are concerned about service standards slipping, keep in mind that Caruso will be managing this.
We closed with some nice words about how this would bring the community together in an unprecedented way (the same was said of CityCenter) and then had questions.
I asked Mazer what was going to happen to Imperial Palace and O'Shea's. He told me IP's casino floor was going to renovated (it's going to opened up to connect Carnival Court to Linq and to accommodate the new O'Shea's) and that the towers will be reskinned. They want to do more room updates (he said that they've already done a lot, including getting rid of carpet in some of the bathrooms--yuck!), but that'll be down the line.
The Imperial Palace name is going away since Caesars doesn't own the name, it's just been licensing it.
I'm writing a piece for Vegas Seven about how the Linq's construction's going to impact all the properties, so you can read more about the IP there.
In general, I was impressed with the thought process behind Linq. They're building off of the existing pedestrian flow, which is one of the things that CityCenter completely missed the boat on. That's a good start.
The sky wheel...I'll probably ride it if they do a media night, but it's not the kind of thing that interests me. Then again, neither are the rides on the Stratosphere, and they're doing fine. With the Stratosphere tower being a big draw for international visitors and with the demonstrated appeal of wheels like the London Eye, I can see this being successful. I don't know whether they'll get 2,240 an hour to ride it, but it'll be an attraction. And, whether you ride it or not, it's going to alter the Vegas skyline.
There is a need for mid-market F&B on the Strip, and I think this will fill this need. I'm imagining something like San Diego's Gaslamp District. It could work.
Jan Jones made a very good point in her introductory remarks--Las Vegas doesn't need more hotel rooms or slot machines right now. So I think that adding attractions that complement what the Strip already has--and more specifically what Caesars already has in its portfolio--is a good move.
When we see the tenant list, we'll get a better idea of what the Linq's identity will be--I'm guessing somewhere in between the Forum Shops and Miracle Mile.
As I've said for just about every big Vegas project for the past few years, it's all about the execution. Until we see the finished product, it'll be difficult to say exactly what kind of impact Linq will have. If it ends up looking something like the Gaslamp District, it'll really transform that part of the Strip and will re-energize the Caesars portfolio. If it's just Carnival Court redux, it's not going to do much to move the needle.
Given the track record of Caruso, I'm leaning towards the former. But if there's one thing the past five years have taught me, it's to be prepared for a range of possible outcomes.
I'm looking forward to seeing this develop.
There was a question about the future of Bill's over on VT, and I spoke to Rick Mazer about this. Since it's not going to be part of the Vegas Seven story, I'll share what he said here.
Long-term, the plan is to rebrand the property and upgrade it to become a "higher-end boutique hotel," something that Mazer thinks can be legitimately done because it's only 200 rooms, not 3,000. He said that Linq is currently "more impactful," so it's getting done first. That means we won't be seeing anything happening to Bill's until at least 2013.
Mazer said Bill's is already a "great little place," that he's proud of. He said that when they've had to walk customers there (overbooking at his core properties), they've often said they like Bill's better and book their directly on their next trip.
As far as whether the IP becomes a Horseshoe, that seems a natural fit. I've got my own ideas on what they should name it, but I'll save that for another day.