ome of the world's top architects and designers have taken a fresh deck of cards and created a Xanadu on the Las Vegas Strip. CityCenter's half-dozen glass-and-steel towers – including two condo high-rises that lean 5 degrees instead of standing upright – add a futuristic look to this desert destination.
Inside, it resembles a modern art gallery and mind-boggling design showcase more than themed Vegas resorts. Pieces include an 25.6 metres silver serpentine sculpture depicting the course of the Colorado River, designed by Maya Lin of Vietnam Veterans Memorial fame. That hangs above the front desk of the Aria Resort & Casino.
Its lack of emphasis on gaming (only Aria has a casino), edgy style and city-within-a-city layout are "the next step in the evolution of Vegas," says CityCenter CEO Bobby Baldwin– unlike anything yet seen in the USA's adult Disneyland.
CityCenter is due to open in stages on 27.1 hectares, starting December 1 with the Vdara resort/condo, December 3, with the Crystals retail/dining/entertainment complex, and December 4 with the Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas hotel and residences. This joint venture between the MGM Mirage casino-resort giant and Dubai World – a United Arab Emirates firm that invests in various properties – is premiering during one of the less-stellar years in Vegas history. It's us$ 1.2 billion over budget, causing analysts to speculate whether the big bet will pay off.
"Clearly, the timing couldn't be much worse, though it's slightly better than a year ago," says Robert LaFleur, gaming analyst at Susquehanna Financial Group. "The Las Vegas market is a tough place" at the moment, he says.
Visitor numbers were down 4.7 % January through September vs. 2008, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority reports. Convention attendance dropped 27.1 % during that period. Hotel discounting is the norm now, leaving luxe Aria and Vdara little choice but to open at official rates under us$ 200 – from us$ 179 on slow days for Aria; us$ 149 for Vdara. That's at least 20 % off what they originally expected, guesses Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor and an expert on local deals. He found a us$ 129 offer at Vdara in December.
Mandarin Oriental is banking on high rollers, with 392 rooms and suites that start at us$ 545, with a second night free.