There are Vegas resorts. There are mega Vegas resorts.
Then there’s CityCenter: The urban development opened last month on 67 acres bringing Aria, a 61-story, 4,004-room gaming resort; the non-gaming Mandarin Oriental hotel and Vdara Hotel & Spa; and Crystals, a 500,000-square-foot retail district to the Las Vegas Strip. The Harmon boutique hotel and the residential Veer Towers will open in 2010.
From its cutting edge architecture to its eye toward environmental responsibility, CityCenter is a series of firsts for Las Vegas. MGM Mirage executives are predicting that the joint venture between MGM Mirage and Dubai World subsidiary Infinity World Development Corp will essentially redefine the future of Las Vegas resorts.
“The Mirage (in 1989) marked the ascent of the global sense of Las Vegas as a large resort destination market for gaming,” said Sven Van Assche, vice president of the MGM Mirage design team. “The Bellagio, 10 years or so later, showed the world market that Las Vegas is not just 100 percent a gaming destination, but also a resort destination for food and beverage, entertainment, you name it. I think that CityCenter is yet another step in the evolution of Las Vegas. It has pushed the market and the destination concept to the next level. If we’ve done this right, we will have created a very exciting and unique environment, unique to Las Vegas and unique to the world.”
It’s too early to tell if Las Vegas has truly evolved as a result of CityCenter. Even so, the multi-complex was wall to wall with visitors of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and nationalities over New Year’s weekend. The free CityCenter tram, which runs between the Bellagio, Crystals and the Monte Carlo, was consistently packed with people, as were the pathways around the casino at Aria, and many of the restaurants and bars.
On paper, CityCenter reads like a laundry list of superlatives. Aria alone has 16 restaurants, 4,004 of the most technologically savvy guest rooms in the country, three of the property’s six Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications from the U.S. Green Building Council, an 80,000-square-foot spa with 62 treatment rooms, a nightclub and the Cirque show “Viva Elvis!”
These superlatives extend across the entire project:
• Six buildings on an 18 million-square-foot campus built by a never-before-seen in Vegas dream team of seven different architectural firms.
• A clean construction effort, which recycled 94 percent of all construction waste, diverting more than 250,000 tons of waste from the local landfill.
• The first hotels in Las Vegas to utilize personalized suite systems by Control4, allowing guests to control their room environment with the touch of a remote.
• An unparalleled Fine Art Collection showcasing acclaimed artists including Maya Lin, Jenny Holzer, Nancy Rubins and Claes Oldenburg.
• A staff of 12,000 employees, reflecting the single largest hiring effort in the country.
“In terms of its size and its philosophical ambition, the only places where you would find anything remotely close to this would be either in Asia or Dubai,” said Alan Feldman, senior vice president of public affairs for MGM Mirage. “Each place within CityCenter has a complete and total integrity of its own. Then on top of it, taken together, forms something else.”
In person, CityCenter is an equally impressive feat. Visually stunning glass and steel buildings reach toward the sky at various angles, traversing the Las Vegas Strip landscape. Indoor and outdoor atmospheres appeal to guests offering dynamic public art, landscaped pocket parks, unique water features by WET and several pedestrian friendly walkways.
“We couldn’t just provide 18 million square feet of building and have it all basically be the same, so that in the first 15 minutes of walking in some place it all looks the same as the next 15 minutes,” said Van Assche. “On top of that, we had to create a diverse experience because we have a diverse product. We were looking to create moments that were special, that helped break down the scale of the project.”
The creation of CityCenter brought about many new challenges for MGM Mirage. For one, CityCenter is the first project in Las Vegas to incorporate buildings designed by different architects.
“The bones of the project, the master plan, has allowed us in a positive way to be challenged in a way that we have never been challenged before in developing a project,” said Van Assche. “Those challenges really allowed us to see this as something unique from anything ever built here before.”
Even more challenging was the implementation of earth friendly initiatives from day one, helping CityCenter to achieve its status as the largest LEED certified project in the world. While other hotels in Las Vegas have integrated such initiatives into their practices and CityCenter is not the only LEED certified property on the Strip, it does set the bar for integrating such ideas from the ground up.
The buildings were constructed with preference to materials made with recycled content, reclaimed materials or those manufactured locally, as well as paints, sealants, adhesives, carpet and composite wood products that do not contain toxic substances. Even the positioning of the buildings to favor natural light was taken into consideration.
But many of the fundamentals of building green properties, particularly materials like paints with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or urea formaldehyde-free glues, were simply not available when the project started in 2006. In many cases, MGM Mirage had to open these markets anew.
“When we started, we literally couldn’t find a vendor, including our local utility that would recycle our construction waste,” said Cindy Ortega, MGM Mirage’s senior vice president of energy and environmental services. “So we capitalized a small waste company, and they purchased trucks and increased their line, and we have recycled 94 percent of the construction waste for CityCenter, including the demolition of the Boardwalk.”
The outcome involved quite a bit of ingenuity and originality, covering everything from air handling (i.e. dealer tables have built-in air curtains to protect them from the players’ tobacco smoke; slot machines have special air conditioning bases that cool the room from the floor up) to water usage (the construction process utilized waste water from the Monte Carlo hotel; the process of picking high-performance, low-flow faucets alone took almost 9 months).
Even some of the public artwork was picked with an eye toward sustainability. Nancy Rubins’ “Big Edge,” for example, incorporates reclaimed canoes, while Maya Lin’s “Silver River” is made from 100 percent reclaimed silver.
“I think what surprised everyone, is that the idea of the environment and earth actually shows in everything,” said Ortega. “I had no idea four years ago that I would walk into Aria and I’d be looking at natural stones and natural daylight and certified wood, but there it all is. We were able on CityCenter to really breathe the idea and respect of nature into the largest sustainable project in the United States.”
Ultimately, with its diversity of offerings, CityCenter aims to have something for everyone. Both Van Assche and Feldman see it as a place that creates a heart for Las Vegas, and likened the development to other destinations within great cities of the world, such as Times Square in New York or the Miracle Mile in Chicago.
“If you were to go to any great city, most have at least one great place or area that people from around the world come to visit, that the city is renowned for,” said Van Assche. “When they’re empty, they’re beautiful architecturally. But when they’re full, when they’re enlivened with people sitting eating at cafes outdoors, and walking around shopping in an out of stores or just walking around a fountain whatever they might be doing, there is a sense of energy that is garnered from that experience … and that alone makes it a wonderful experience.”
Feldman added that CityCenter is a reflection of where Las Vegas is headed.
“Sure, we could have built another themed hotel, there’s still plenty of themes out there that people haven’t touched, but I don’t know that that’s what Vegas needs, or wants,” he said. “That’s not to say it wouldn’t be exciting and successful and profitable, but if you look at what we have and don’t have — CityCenter is what we don’t have. I don’t see how any hotel project in the future can be designed without taking CityCenter into account in some form.”