Movin’ on Up

MGM’s new project aims high

By: Anne Burke

The last remaining undeveloped parcel in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip is about to go very vertical.

MGM Mirage boasts that its just-announced Project CityCenter will create a “dazzling vertical city in the heart of Las Vegas.” Set for a late 2009 opening, the mixed-use development will rise on 66 acres of prime Strip real estate between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo resorts.

J. Terrence “Terry” Lanni, chairman and CEO of MGM Mirage, told reporters at a press conference last month that Project CityCenter, at $5 billion and 18 million square feet, will be the largest, privately financed project in U.S. history.

“Project CityCenter represents what we feel is a significant new direction for our city and our company,” Lanni said. “With this world-class development, Las Vegas is on the fast track to becoming a major urban center in the western United States.”

MGM Mirage assembled a dream team of celebrity designers, architects and property managers who can be expected to add some steel-and-glass sophistication to the Strip’s glitz-and-neon aesthetic.

Cesar Pelli, responsible for Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers, will design the property’s stand-out feature, a 60-story, 4,000-room hotel tower, casino and convention center.
Rafael Vinoly, designer of the high-tech modern Tokyo International Forum, and James Cheng, responsible for much of Vancouver’s skyline, will design the 1,640 units of luxury condominiums and hotel-condominiums.

In sync with the Strip’s increasing reliance on non-gaming sources of revenue, the development will include at least one hotel sans casino. This so-called “younger lifestyle” property will anchor one end of the property’s 1,200 feet of frontage on Las Vegas Boulevard, said Robert H. Baldwin, president and CEO of Mirage Resorts. A five-star luxury hotel will anchor the opposite end, Baldwin said.

Mandarin Oriental, not currently active in Las Vegas, will manage the luxury hotel, to be designed by Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut & Kuhn Architects, whose works include New York’s Battery Park City and Los Angeles’ Gateway Center. The Mandarin Oriental property will include 100 resort residences.

Baldwin said the “lifestyle” hotel will be managed under an agreement with Andrew Sasson of the Las Vegas-based Light Group. Sasson’s company runs the trendy Light nightclub, Fixx restaurant and Caramel bar in the Bellagio. Mist Lounge at Treasure Island and the Jet nightclub at the Mirage resort-hotel are also managed by the Light Group.
MGM Mirage’s vision for this new urban megaproject squares with efforts to remake the Strip into a place where people want to live and work rather than just indulge in Las Vegas’ traditional offerings gambling, food and fun.

Lanni said that MGM Mirage originally looked at hotel-casinos and other traditional uses for the 66 acres, which Mirage Resorts brought into its merger with MGM. But after looking ahead to what Las Vegas will be like in 2010 and beyond, Lanni added, “the escalating real estate value of the land as well as surging customer demand for new lifestyle experiences demanded that we explore a new approach.”

MGM Mirage spokesperson Yvette Monet said that it was too early to discuss revenue-generating opportunities for travel agents in the residential properties. The project is currently at the midpoint of a 20-month design process.

But longtime Las Vegas travel agent Leo May guessed that at least some of the condo units would be made available to the public as part of a rental pool.

“It would seem that there would be a high percentage of absentee ownership with this type of project and I suspect the hotel would offer a program to put them into the rental pool when they’re not in use,” May said.

Such rental units would probably be offered on a nightly rather than weekly basis, he added.

“However, they’re high-end units so whether or not people need to put them into a rental program is something else,” he added.

May is CEO of America’s Travel Companies, which offers services to travel agents primarily from outside Las Vegas. In regards to hotel rooms, May said they have more “additions to the high-end room inventory here in Las Vegas.”

“Each project, of course, appears to be attempting to outdo the previous one,” he said.

Las Vegas’ Manhattanization is under way. Donald Trump’s 64-story Trump International Hotel and Tower, across from Wynn Las Vegas, is apparently sold out. Prices started at mid $600,000. Sales are reportedly brisk at the 40-story Residencies at MGM Grand Las Vegas.

Off the Strip, west of the Hard Rock Hotel is the Barcelona-inspired Las Ramblas, in which actor George Clooney is an investor. Save your money. Reservation deposits start at $25,000 for a studio.

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