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What happens in Vegas, doesn’t always stay in Vegas — at least when it comes to the history of Las Vegas’ casino hotels. Remember the Desert Inn? The Stardust Resort & Casino? The Hacienda? Those properties and countless others met their fate and are now part of the dust upon which Vegas’ ritzier resorts were erected. However, Sin City’s new wave of megaresorts, from Mandalay Bay to the Wynn Las Vegas, might not have been possible if it weren’t for The Mirage, which changed the business model for success on the Strip 20 years ago.
Mirage Las Vegas // © 2009 MGM Mirage
“At that time, the Strip was sleepy and somewhat tired,” explained Brian Hardee, vice president of marketing for The Mirage, who got his start with the company as a graveyard-shift desk clerk at The Golden Nugget about 21 years ago. “There was somewhat of a ‘dark age’ after the opening of Circus Circus Hotel and Casino [in 1968] and Caesars Palace [in 1966], but The Mirage changed everything and set a new standard as the city’s first destination resort.”
Steve Wynn, the original proprietor of The Mirage, took unprecedented risks by offering an inventory of more than 3,000 rooms, extensive meeting space and a multitude of entertainment and dining options, all within a single, easy-to-navigate property — at a cost of approximately $620 million.
“Nobody thought that The Mirage would succeed because it was built at [such a record cost] — most of which was financed by high-risk, high-yield junk bonds — and needed $1 million in gaming wins and overall net profit a day, just to meet its net loans and payroll,” Hardee said.
The pressure was on, but Wynn’s close involvement (he’s been said to have picked out everything himself, right down to the napkins) and innovative ideas (including the resort’s Y-shaped design with a central elevator core) helped significantly spike citywide visitor volume and pave a way for the next generation of destination resorts.
Now, under the wing of the MGM Mirage parent company — which was formed in 2000, when MGM Grand, Inc., purchased Mirage Resorts, Inc., from Wynn for some $6.4 billion — The Mirage is celebrating 20 years as a market leader and is putting the finishing touches on its three-year transformation.
Revamped, RemixedTo date, The Mirage has reinvented itself by adding a handful of high-profile restaurants, from The Light Group’s Stack to chef Laurent Tourondel’s BLT Burger; nightlife options, such as The Beatles Revolution Lounge and the 15,000-square-foot Jet Nightclub; The Mirage Volcano’s free, outdoor fire show; the topless, adults-only pool area, Bare; and its ever-popular permanent shows, “The Beatles Love by Cirque du Soleil” and “Terry Fator and His Cast of Thousands.”
“The common misconception people have is that we are the same resort that we were 20 years ago,” Hardee said of the resort that has consistently earned the AAA Four-Diamond Award since 1991. “We may look the same from the outside, but we’ve completely redone the resort throughout.”
The resort’s guestrooms are no exception. The revamped rooms and suites, part of an $85 million redesign, feature contemporary furnishings, plush pillow-top mattresses, iPod clock-radio docking stations, fully loaded minibars and 42-inch LCD televisions with a media hub to display input from guests’ laptops and Mp3 players.
The Mirage expects to roll out more major enhancements over the next few months, as well. In November, the resort will unveil B.B. King’s Blues Club, featuring late-night Creole and Southern cuisine (think banana bread pudding, fried dill pickles and gumbo), as well as live music seven nights a week and a B.B. King-themed retail outlet. Across from Jet Nightclub, King Ink is currently under development. King Ink will be celebrity tattoo artist Mario Barth’s newest lifestyle venue, where guests can make their stay at The Mirage hard to forget with a spur-of-the-moment tattoo.
“Our message in our 20th-anniversary year is that Vegas starts here, not that Vegas started here. We have reclaimed our position as one of the great, iconic resorts and did so without having to blow out any walls,” Hardee said.
While the celebrations have been ongoing, the resort’s official anniversary is Nov. 22. That weekend, guests can remember the good old days at Kokomo’s restaurant, which will feature Kokomo’s original menu at the original prices, including Oysters Rockefeller for $8.50 and filet mignon for $22. Also offered at the original prices, at various bars throughout the resort, is a special drink menu of cocktails that were all the rage in 1989, from Long Island iced teas to fuzzy navels.
The Next Evolution
City Center // © 2009 MGM Mirage
Estimated to cost $8.5 billion, CityCenter is the largest privately funded project in the U.S., ambitiously opening for business during one of the most challenging economic times the city has ever endured. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s (LVCVA) “Executive Summary of Las Vegas,” citywide occupancy rates were down 6.2 percent, gaming revenues decreased by 12.4 percent and convention attendance was down 30.2 percent through August of this year, compared to the same time last year.
Despite unfavorable statistics, community members and industry leaders are hopeful, citing Vegas’ long history of reinvention and successful development.
“CityCenter will bring a new dynamic to the Las Vegas Strip that will increase interest for visitors to come and see the newest addition to our destination,” said Cathy Tull, senior vice president of marketing, LVCVA. “We expect CityCenter to generate worldwide publicity when it opens later this year.”
And that it will. CityCenter has already drawn global recognition for its sustainable development efforts. The U.S. Green Building Council awarded Gold LEED certification to Vdara’s entire property and to Aria’s hotel towers, convention center and theater. (Aria’s casino allows smoking in public places and, consequently, cannot receive LEED certification.) Other CityCenter venues are also expected to receive either Silver or Gold LEED certifications further down the line, which will make CityCenter one of the largest sustainable developments in the world.
“I don’t think sustainability is the first thing you think about when you think of Vegas,” said Gail Fitzgerald, Aria’s vice president of hotel sales and marketing. “CityCenter is just example of what you can do when you have that commitment to sustainability, and it is really incredible.”
The stunning work of eight famous architects — including the Sony Center Berlin’s visionary, Helmut Jahn, and the design team behind New York’s World Financial Center, Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects — will also put CityCenter on the global radar. It’s nearly impossible to drive past Crystal’s 500,000-square-foot retail and entertainment district without noticing its unusual, jagged-cut glass roof, stretching out at almost every angle, a design element intended to conjure the image of a quartz crystal.
CityCenter’s Fine Art Collection, the first major public collection of art in Vegas, is also expected to garner a great deal of attention. Highlights of the indoor-outdoor display include Maya Lin’s Silver River, an 84-foot silver cast of the Colorado River and Nancy Rubins’ 75-foot-long Big Edge installation of delicately balanced aluminum rowboats, canoes and kayaks.
Lovers of the arts will have another reason to visit CityCenter when Aria becomes the permanent home of Cirque du Soleil’s new Elvis Presley-themed show, opening in mid-December. Held in a 1,840-seat theater, it will incorporate live musicians and singers, dance, acrobatics and cutting-edge multimedia sound and lighting technology.
“There was a lot of skepticism, as well as excitement, when [our company] built the first destination resort in Vegas and, with CityCenter, there is a different level of expectation and pressure,” Hardee said. “However, there was significant growth in citywide visitor volume in the years following the opening of The Mirage and almost a 20 percent increase in visitors in 1994, the year after Excalibur, MGM Grand and Luxor opened. The year after the Bellagio opened and set the bar for dining and entertainment , there was another double-digit increase. That is the basis upon which we believe CityCenter will be a success — because we will have created something unique in scope that wasn’t here before.”
[12.1] Vdara Hotel & Spa
[12.3] Crystal’s retail and entertainment district
[12.4] Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas
[12.16] Aria Resort & Casino
[12.16] The Elvis Presley tribute show by Cirque du Soleil
[Late 2010] The Harmon Hotel
The Mirage 702-693-7111 www.themirage.com
Packages: The 20th Anniversary package offers discounted rates, starting at $86 per night, and a $50 Cravings buffet credit, while the Love Room and Show package includes a Deluxe Room for two nights and two tickets to “The Beatles Love by Cirque du Soleil,” at a savings of at least $200.
Commission: 10 percent, if booked by phone
Agent Rates: Agents can be among the first guests to experience CityCenter by taking advantage of Vdara Hotel & Spa and Aria Resort & Casino exclusive agent rates. Available from the hotels’ respective opening dates through April 1, the nightly rates range from $79 to $139, depending on the property and day of the week.
MGM Mirage Properties: Bellagio, Circus Circus, CityCenter, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, The Mirage, Monte Carlo and New York-New York
MGM Mirage www.mgmmirage.com
Click here to read TravelAge West's editors' thoughts about The Mirage, its topless pool area, Cirque du Soleil's tribute to The Beatles and more.