Vegas Takes Manhattan

MGM’s Project CityCenter outlines a high-rise future for Sin City

By: Kathy Espin

Building yet another multi-billion-dollar, knock-your-eyes-out themed resort is just so 20th century for MGM Mirage. The company’s latest plans aim at no less than transforming the Las Vegas Strip into a Manhattan West.

“Las Vegas doesn’t need another casino/hotel,” said Alan Feldman, senior vice president of public affairs for MGM Mirage. “It needs a new generation of thinking one that encompasses not only tourism but also the incredible growth in residential development.”

In November, MGM Mirage executives announced a plan to create an “urban metropolis” on 66 acres of some of the most expensive real estate in the world located between the Bellagio and the Monte Carlo hotels on the Las Vegas Strip. Project CityCenter, as they call it, will be built in phases, with the initial groundbreaking sometime in 2006. The first phase is scheduled to open in 2010 with a 4,000-room casino/ hotel, of course; three 400-room “boutique” hotels by yet-to-be-named world-famous hoteliers; 550,000 square feet of shopping, dining and entertainment; and 1,650 luxury condominiums.

“There will be several forms of accommodations in Project CityCenter: the traditional hotels, condominium/hotels, residence clubs and traditional residences,” Feldman said.

The residence clubs will be akin to time-shares but higher end with fewer owners, he said. The condominium/hotels will consist of privately owned units where unused nights can be rented out by one or more of the hotels. The condo/hotel concept is the latest thing in many markets but it is just gaining ground in Las Vegas with the development of the Residences at MGM Grand now under construction. That project includes two towers that have been so popular they almost sold out before ground was broken.

The new project is being billed as part of the “Manhattanization” of Las Vegas. The idea is to develop entertainment facilities along with high-rise residential communities to make the best use of expensive property.

The Manhattanization concept “has everything to do with the population density on a given piece of land,” Feldman said.

He pointed out that Las Vegas has always had the luxury of a much lower population density than most other cities in the country, but that the picture is changing.

Property values have skyrocketed in Las Vegas as the population has tripled in the last 20 years. Developers are looking at ways to maximize profits and the heavily populated center of the valley is seeing more and more residential high-rises resulting in higher population density and more walking business for the resorts in the tourist corridor.

“Part of this came about from the realization that the land was worth an incredible amount more than when we purchased it,” Feldman said. “The concept of building another casino/hotel was no longer enough. We knew we could do more.”

Project CityCenter will be developed over time into a master-planned complex where visitors and residents will enjoy the same facilities. To continue the “Manhattan” metaphor, the company has compared the size of the project to the combined acreage covered by New York’s Rockefeller Center, SoHo and Times Square.

The entire complex will be geared to walking traffic.

“It’s going to create a wonderful pedestrian opportunity for people to flow through the shopping, dining and entertainment venues. The whole complex is going to be pedestrian friendly,” Feldman said.

MGM Mirage plans to partner with world-famous architects, developers, hotel operators and retailers in designing, financing and operating the project as it develops over the next decade or more.

More details on the participants in the first phase of the project will be finalized in the next few weeks, Feldman said.