Friday, April 15, 2011

Las Vegas Part 2 – An identity confused “City”

As I touched on in part 1, the strip is just coming off of a 7 year building boom that featured the opening of 5 new casino resorts, 2 major non-gaming resort hotels, and 1 redesigned and rebranded resort. This rapid expansion has greatly impacted the city of Las Vegas and has caused a new tourist boom.

The major projects were: the Wynn and Encore resorts, The Venetian resort expansion with the addition of the Palazzo (making it the largest resort in the world in terms of available), and finally the huge City Center. Also, Marriott saw it’s first Strip casino resort, the amazing Cosmopolitan, open.

The main topic of this update is the massive City Center. City Center is comprised of the Mandarin Oriental and Vdara, 2 major non-gaming hotels; the Veer Towers that house residential condos, the Crystals luxury shopping center and the newest Casino Resort, Aria.

City Center truly feels like a whole new city. Image © MGM Resorts Int.

I will confess right from the start, I wasn’t a big fan of City Center. The exteriors of the buildings are great eye candy and really stand out as if it were a cluster of skyscrapers in a city’s downtown region; but the interiors stray the farthest from theme that we’ve ever seen in Vegas. Aria, City Center’s main attraction, is a beautiful, big resort that offers stylish décor and modern delights. The problem, is it could be found anywhere in the world; it misses that “Vegas” feel.

Intensifying that feeling is the awkward placement of Viva Elvis the Cirque Du Soleil show made as a tribute to the King himself. Housed in one of Vegas’ most beautiful theaters, the show brings back nostalgia of old Vegas while located in a hotel trying very hard to be the opposite.

The reason for Aria’s lack of direction could very well be linked to its parent situation. City Center and all of its inhabitants were created as a joint venture between MGM Resorts International and Dubai World. It’s as if the residents of City Center are conflicted on which parent they want to impress more. On one side you have the elegant and clean design that is very reminiscent of Dubai, while still throwing in a Cirque show, shopping, and colorful fountains dancing out front just like a typical MGM resort.

Aria's simple, "clean" main entrance.

Moving away from Aria, City Center’s biggest disappointment comes, however, in the form of the Harmon. The Harmon, you may have heard of, was supposed to be a 500 foot tall boutique hotel and spa. When the contractors discovered flaws in the construction the building was capped off at half that height. When more studies were done, it was discovered that the Harmon would never be able to open and MGM made the announcement they would begin the demolition process in 2012. This won’t be a typical Vegas implosion due to the building close proximity to the Strip, the Cosmopolitan and Crystals; instead the building will be slowly deconstructed piece by piece. For now it serves as a giant City Center billboard, advertising elements that actually opened within.

The doomed Harmon currently serves as a giant billboard.

By no means do I want to get the point across that I feel the City Center is a blemish on Vegas, I’m simply stating it feels a bit confused on it’s identity and probably won’t win a lot of us in the coaster community over.

Crystals Shopping Center offers unique dining experiences.

Directly next door to City Center, so close that it’s often confused as part of City Center, is the Cosmopolitan. The Cosmopolitan is Marriott’s first casino resort. I have to say, Marriott hit it out of the park on this one. From the elevators with video fish tanks on the walls to a bar that’s encased in a gigantic chandelier, this hotel is what Vegas hotels should be. It pulls off the elegance that hotels like Bellagio and Venetian are known for but still provides a hip and fun atmosphere that is found more at hotels like New York New York and the MGM Grand. With it’s more financially reasonable shopping, and it’s general public friendly casino, that doesn’t assume everyone is a millionaire, the Cosmopolitan is sure to earn a fantastic reputation as more and more flock to the desert.

Get a drink and relax inside of a giant chandelier only at the Cosmopolitan © AP Photo / Isaac Brekken

Aside from obvious reasons why adults love Vegas, the coaster community has always been drawn to this desert because Las Vegas really is one big theme park. And like every good theme park, you find some attractions you really love, and others you feel no remorse skipping over (just make sure you get your “credit” so you can decide for yourself).

I want to thank everyone who stuck with Part 2 to the end. I realize this part strayed away from a coaster industry specific theme; but I’m sure there are quite a few people out there that like me, are equally fascinated by these concrete and glass oases of the desert. Next week I’ll wrap up my Vegas series with a little history lesson that leads into the wildest rumor I have come across, are there two Walt Disney’s fighting for the desert? I’ll explain, next time.