Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

November 29, 2009

UPDATED: Jim Murren: The Man and His City(Center)

Posted by Hunter

A story in today's Sun delves into Jim Murren's thinking regarding the design of CityCenter. It's an interesting look at the process and gives more insight into the man, someone that hasn't had a well-defined public persona beyond the quarterly conference calls.

Murren talks about CityCenter inspiring people to create art - that would be incredible were it to occur. Perhaps a modern-day Renoir will be so-moved by slot machines - I'm a little skeptical.

The author, Liz Benston, makes reference to people that have described CityCenter as "a themed version of New York as envisioned by a Manhattan transplant". That's one of the points I raised in my write-up of the site tour. Sounds like Murren would match it more closely with master-planning done in places like Abu Dhabi - perhaps that is more apt but I think the basic premise still holds.

There are some nice photos with the piece, including the Crystals/ARIA pocket park, one of my fave places in the complex (and it sounds like one of Murren's too).

Vdara opens on Tuesday. Hard to believe that we're finally at the finish line!

Update: A related update - the LA Times has some interior photos, though mostly specific textures and related design elements including some stuff I saw and some I haven't yet seen.,0,853232.photogallery,0,37081.photogallery


Read archived comments (20 so far)
November 29, 2009 2:00 PM Posted by detroit1051

"Early into his move, Murren acknowledged a “gnawing sadness” about the relative lack of culture and community icons in Las Vegas."
I'm not sure CityCenter fills the bill in Las Vegas. I hope I'm wrong.
As I write this, there are 46 comments following the LV Sun article. Many are negative and suggest that Las Vegas shouldn't forget its roots and purpose as a place for gambling and fun diversions. Several comments are thoughtful in their discussion of "true urban centers", and how they evolve over time; they're not built as a master plan. There will be second guessing and analyses for years.

November 29, 2009 4:20 PM Posted by hail2skins

LVA reporting Aria's booo-fet prices:

14.95 for breakfast
19.95 for lunch
27.95/34.95 for dinner
23.95/28.95 for brunch

November 29, 2009 5:24 PM Posted by Paolo

The general level of discourse over on the LV Sun's site is pretty nasty in general (which I guess is a different discussion).
I, for one, as a proud Las Vegan, am rooting for City Center to be a big success. Aside from it being an incredibly exciting project, I think Vegas needs someone with vision like Murren to keep pushing the limits and re-imagining the future.
I suppose many people think they know better than gaming execs as to what will be a success. Perhaps a lot of the negativity is coming from people who think MGM could have better spent all that money by taking less risk and building something more predictable. I'm not so sure about that... I get that a lot of people aren't into art and design, and I get that it is a risky business proposition. But hoping for MGM's failure perplexes me. It's like hoping that we lose the war in Iraq, regardless of whether you think we should be there or not. City Center's failure will be bad for Las Vegas as a city, like it or not.

November 29, 2009 5:43 PM Posted by mike_ch

Those buffet prices aren't bad. Basically matches Bellagio. If I'm on the south strip and want to treat myself to a buffet, I might drop in because the distance to Bellagio often isn't worth it. Presently if I'm south strip I go to Mandalay.

I'm softening to Aria, probably on the news that Dubai World might be irreversibly screwed. I wrote a rant in the Sun article about how mis-prioritized the city is on urban planning and development and sustainability, but CityCenter isn't going to do a darn thing to address that. To propose it as some kind of cultural centre that is a benefit for the city residents, beyond the usual source of income that any other resort provides, is a real ego move on Murren's part and a bit pretentious. if he wanted to improve the community he could, you know, actually contribute to community projects. The city needed jobs desperately, so CityCenter will do, but don't dress it up as some kind of metropolitan touchstone for the rest of the valley.

CityCenter still has some issues I'm concerned about, and probably can not get any straight answers until I can walk the property. Namely, Aria is set quite far back from the Strip sidewalk, and what urban centres do that strip mall sprawlathons like Vegas don't is put their entryways right up against the street. It's not just abut stacking a bunch of buildings closely together, it's about accessibility.

The whole concept of being set far back from the Street is a Vegas legacy concept, beginning with the era before cheaply made multi level parking garages, when casinos had giant pre-95 Disneyland style parking lots. Eventually garages started going up, but Steve Wynn continued the setback phenomenon by putting eyecatch attractions at the sidewalk. Obviously that's changed the street a lot and few of us would choose to knock down the Volcano

I'm curious to know how difficult it will be to get into Aria on foot. So far all I can see is walking into Bellagio and walking/riding over (no easy feat), or from Monte Carlo (where the tram station is in the far back, hardest to get to part of the hotel), or by having to walk through the crystals mall. There doesn't seem to be any easy feed from the sidewalk. My guess is that despite all the talk of urban design they once again are trying to wage psychological initiative to spend by forcing people to be corralled past opportunities to leave some money behind. In this case, though, it sounds like they're using high-end fashion outlets instead of so many tables and slots.

Hunter has walked through Crystals and stuff and I haven't, so I hope he shall respond with some info, but I will say this: The next big invention in Vegas mall design is whoever can put movators (moving platforms) in the middle of the thoroughfare, airport style, so those who know where they want to go don't have to keep walking and navigating traffic to get past all the storefronts they aren't interested in. There have been a few occasions where I want to go shopping in the Forum Shoppes, but don't want to criss cross zoo, dodging people and attractions and sales carts.

November 29, 2009 5:46 PM Posted by Hunter

You can walk either side of 'Casino Drive' or whatever they're calling that main street (not Harmon) entrance between Crystals and MO - there are outdoor walkways on both the Crystals side (where the main entrances to Veer are) and on the MO side.

If you want to walk indoors I believe your only options are the ones you mentioned.

November 29, 2009 6:28 PM Posted by Brian Fey

I'm sure it looks much better in person, or at least I hope, but Silk Road in Vdara, looks like a cheap Dunkin Dounuts or something. I mean it really looks bad.

November 29, 2009 6:45 PM Posted by Hunter

I really liked Silk Road's design - super retro, almost to the point of an Austin Powers movie - but neat looking.

November 29, 2009 7:14 PM Posted by Brian Fey

Sometimes me meeting Hunter, is like having another brother to argue with. I think sometimes we argue and disagree with each other, just for the sake of doing so. :) Its amazing how much our taste is similar in some respects, yet total opposite in others. But its not like Mike_Ch, we pretty much seem to disagree on about 110% of everything. But its all good, I still find reading his stuff interesting.

November 29, 2009 8:14 PM Posted by mike_ch

I don't know if you can see enough of Silk Road in that picture to make a good judgment.

I'm actually kinda interested to know what the Vdara room service menu looks like, if anyone is staying there soon. They actually made a point to name the same Fancy Chef from Silk Road/Sensi as behind Room Service, which makes me wonder if the room service is going to aspire to be creative culinary or comfort food.

November 29, 2009 8:25 PM Posted by Hunter

I'll be sure to sample room service when I stay at Vdara.

November 29, 2009 9:45 PM Posted by derek marlowe

Does anyone know if the Vdara is closing sales after offering the 30% discount. How can they rent out the rooms when sales are pending on them?

November 29, 2009 9:50 PM Posted by Hunter

While MGM owns them, they can do whatever they want with them.

November 29, 2009 11:51 PM Posted by John

detroit1051 - to some extent I also agreed with those that spoke of 'true urban centers' in those comments on Sun website. Though one could also argue that Bilbao was very much in decline when construction began on the Guggenheim. In only 12 years, that museum reinvigorated Bilbao and turned it into an international icon. One could surely argue that Lower Manhattan took centuries to evolve into what it is now, but modern history has shown that a giant leap off a cliff can spur amazing growth. Will that apply for CityCenter? Maybe not. There is a stigma attached to Vegas - that it's fake, plastic, a mirage in the desert - so it probably won't happen the way it did for Bilbao. It'd be great if it did happen though, obviously. Looking at the 'detail' shots on the LA Times site, I can already say that I haven't seen anything like that in Vegas before. Here's hoping.

November 30, 2009 7:16 AM Posted by BigRedDogATL

My thoughts are that if Mr. Murren and MGM/Mirage wanted to create an urban center environment, then the City Center equiv. should have been built Downtown, where a true urban center atmosphere would have been gained and appreciated.

City Center has ruined a large section of the Adult Fantasyland which is the famous Las Vegas Strip. There could have been two or three very nice 'themed' resorts built on that property which would have been in better keeping with the surrounding area.

Next year when I am in Las Vegas, I may stop in just to view the place, but then again I haven't set foot into Encore or Palazoo yet either, because I just don't like their unthemed designs. Sorry but I miss the tackey places like the Boardwalk, New Frontier, Stardust, Westward HO and other old Vegas casinos that gave the place some character.

November 30, 2009 8:58 AM Posted by Hans

As an art history major that enjoys Las Vegas, I did find his story interesting, though it does read as a standard "frustrated architect" tale.

I'm a big fan of public art, but simply plopping a few sculptures down in a wind-swept plaza does not equal cutlure and does not build community. If he's really committed to something different, we are going to need to see more public services available here for it to be a real city center.

Culture requires people with commitments to a specific place and to their art. Casinos and tourism in general is about transience. The City Center willl have to find a way to have some people establish roots in this environment if it wants real cutlure to thrive there. Not sure I can think of a master-planned project that has been able to accomplish that.

November 30, 2009 9:46 AM Posted by Dave

I'm working on a longer post with a cocktail napkin analysis of CC's potential economic impact over at tDiC, but I thought I'd add my two cents here.

From the outside, the site looks like an ambitious hotel/casino project. Yes, it's got a higher density than other Strip parcels, but I don't see how it is functionally any different than, say, MGM Grand, which also has gaming, dining, a Cirque show, lodging, and a condo component. Like most other Strip casinos, it's primarily designed as a suburban self-contained destination, not an organic part of the urban grid around it.

Looking at Strip history, you can see that there's been a real evolution towards higher-density projects. The original low-rise resorts were sprawling in a time when land was cheap. The real upward push came in the early 60s when many of the resorts (Sands, Dunes, Stardust) started adding hotel towers. The Mirage-generation resorts did pretty much the same thing as the El Rancho Vegas; they just did it on a larger scale with more variety and greater efficiency. Functionally, they were the same thing. With the residential component downplayed, I see City Center as being far more similar to earlier projects than different.

Had the project been a more vertical version of the District at Green Valley Ranch (full-time residences on top of retail attached to gaming), we'd be seeing something that's truly new on the Strip. That doesn't mean that Aria and its neighbors won't be outstanding places to visit--based on what I've seen, it looks like they will be.

A word on culture: the company had a place that was putting down "cultural" roots on the Strip--the Reading Room at Mandalay Bay. That bookstore had author events and hosted book clubs, and gave locals as well as visitors a reason to visit. It's not there anymore, which might say something about how viable "culture" is on the Strip.

I think this will be the most spectacular casino resort anyone's seen for a while, which should be enough for us.

Also, some (accurate) historical perspective: Kirk Kerkorian actually built the world's biggest casino 3 times: International, 1969 (1500 rooms); MGM Grand, 1973 (2100 rooms); MGM (green) Grand, 1993 (5005 rooms).

November 30, 2009 10:38 AM Posted by socalduck

Huffington Post has some additional interior photos.

November 30, 2009 11:31 AM Posted by Hans

Other ssmall scale efforts at culture at the casinos have incuded the Wynn Collection at the Bellagio (it was fun to see Steve actually scroll in and discuss the paintings) and the Guggenheim/Hermitage effort at the Venetian. The big musuem space there didn't last long (though I blame that on "Art of the Motorcycle" -- not the kind of exhibition that brings the Europeans in in droves.) The smaller space has lasted longer, but all these efforts are presenting culture taken from elsewhere. That's nothing new (see the British Musuem and the Louvre) I suppose.

November 30, 2009 2:46 PM Posted by parchedearth

If the vision was for an urban cityspace then why have neglected pedestrian traffic on the strip. Yesterday I walked the strip from Cosmo to MO and the first thing I noticed is stripwalking in front of CC is going to be an adventure. First, both Cosmo (obviously not part of CC) and MO have stripfront entrances which require guests to enter/exit by driving over the sidewalk in the middle of a block (i.e. not at an intersection). I believe Cosmo previously announced they would have a crossing guard there 24hrs, but the same issue exists at MO. Second, there are no crosswalks at Harmon or Aria's driveway. Rather there are 2 separate pedestrian bridges that must be used. Only the staircase at PHo has an escalator. Each does have a single elevator, but the stairs are narrow and there is no way that strollers, small children, or the elderly are going to be taking the stairs twice. If sidewalk pedestrian traffic returns to previous levels this is going to be a major issue (ala IP). Also, there are concrete barriers to prevent people from walking across these streets. If anyone thought the covered sidewalk during construction was too crowded, then add in 4 sets of stairs and see how that feels.

November 30, 2009 4:30 PM Posted by mike_ch

I'm sorry, but the Reading Room was an almost unseen corner that few would have noticed if there wasn't a Starbucks attached to it within walking distance of the showrooms and north casino (Mandalay's other Starbucks is all the way back by StripSteak.)

If they wanted culture, they'd work a bit harder about it. Show me a small-ish symphony performance in or just off of a lobby for free. Show me a book store not in some tiny corner where nobody can see, but a well-trafficed place like (just based off my knowledge of what I know of Bellagio) one of those stores in the Conservatory.

While convention business is down anyway, why not take a small to medium sized otherwise empty room and offer some culture like a performance (yes, I know, you might have to give it away or ask for a donation for a cause better than your own pockets) or an author read and meet or what have you? The libraries and university do this kind of stuff already on a much smaller scale (once on one of my treks to Henderson for a library I found it packed full of people for some kind of community event.) Just offer the space, make some newsletters for hotel guests and whoever is using any of the condos.

But at the end of the day I think most of this messaging is just that. This was originally intended to be a hotsy-totsy place where the most elite could seclude, and now is wrapped up as a big thing for everybody that residents can be proud of, because the business they expected when they started hasn't materialized.

It's hard to build a civic focal point focused entirely on private property/development with no public space. The talk of CityCenter as The Real Downtown or something is a bit misguided. A museum or cultural centre would be a more attainable image.