Inviting, evolving Vegas
Makeovers, expansions and new buildings define the ever-changing (for the ritzier) Las Vegas.
The Stardust, after 48 years on the Las Vegas Strip, is gone. The Venetian, opened in 1999, is about to double in size. And the casino formerly known as the Aladdin, just seven years old, is putting the finishing touches on a massive makeover as Planet Hollywood.
Las Vegas, always in transition, is at it again and, as usual, making itself bigger, taller, ritzier and, according to some, more urbane. The difference this time is that some of the buildings are being designed not merely to shout for attention but to actually complement each other.
The Venetian, for example, will be joined late this year by the Palazzo, a $1.8 billion expansion with a 50-story, all-suites tower and an enormous casino. The complex will have more than 7,000 rooms, and company officials say it will be the largest hotel-convention complex anywhere.
Even more ambitious is CityCenter, a $7 billion, seven-building complex that's already rising from the desert but is still more than two years from opening. Casino giant MGM Mirage is trying to create a 21st-century urban environment, albeit an extremely expensive one. The cheapest studio condos will be in the $500,000 range, but many units will be in the millions.
"By bringing great architects to Las Vegas, we are developing a much more global view of how people will live and be entertained 30, 40 years from now, rather than what's hot right now," MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman says.
What's hot right now must be working, though, because the Strip continues to lure more visitors each year - now nearly 39 million annually.
Here are some of the major projects underway, with projected completion dates:
The makeover of one of Vegas' biggest casino flops - the Aladdin, which opened in 2000 at a cost of $1.4 billion - is nearing completion, and the property is scheduled for a grand opening in late September.
Officially christened Planet Hollywood last month, the re-made casino will try to reverse the fortunes of a location that's become the Strip's Bermuda Triangle; two versions of the Aladdin have fared poorly there.
The casino's exterior, originally a fanciful turn on an Arabian Nights castle, has been resurfaced to a cream-colored sleekness. Inside, the giant genie's lamp is mercifully gone, and the decor is redone in geometrics.
The resort still figures to be an upper mid-market player in its pricing, with remodeled rooms inspired by Hollywood movies and familiar eateries such as P.F. Chang's and Alfredo of Rome.
A connected shopping mall will also get a contemporary look as it is renamed from the Desert Passage to the Miracle Mile. And a 50-story tower of residences and timeshares is under construction next to the casino-hotel.
The Venetian, one of the better renditions of a themed casino-hotel, is getting an addition that will be both separate from and joined to the original property.
The expansion will have its own name - the Palazzo - its own tower of suites, and its own casino, covering about 100,000 square feet. But it will not sport the faux Italian Renaissance style that distinguishes the Venetian. Instead, the motif is advertised as featuring Italian accents with Asian influences.
The Palazzo's signature feature will be a 60-foot, glass-domed lobby with a towering fountain, and it will connect to the Venetian through an octagonal passage that will also have a glass dome. The two hotels will have about 30 restaurants.
The Venetian's swimming pool area and the shopping mall, the Canal Shoppes, will connect to pools and shops at the Palazzo. The new retail area will add about 60 stores, highlighted by New York apparel high-ender Barney's, raising the total to 140 retailers. A 270-unit condo tower is planned to rise above Barney's.
The ultra-luxurious Canyon Ranch spa will also get bigger. Because of limited land, the Palazzo's parking garage was built underground, a rarity in Las Vegas.
Donald Trump's condo-hotel tower, west of the fading New Frontier gambling hall on the north end of the Strip, differs from other high-profile projects in that it will not have a casino.
But at 64 stories, and with Trump's name emblazoned across the top (much as rival Steve Wynn's signature decorates his own luxury casino across the street), the golden high-end high-rise will be prominent on the new Vegas skyline.
While many condo projects have fizzled - count actor George Clooney and Trump's ex-wife, Ivana, as frustrated developers - the Trump project sold briskly, and a twin tower is expected to start going up as soon as the first is finished.
Owners can rent their condo hotel units when they're not using them. The 1,282 units in the first tower were priced from $550,000 to $6 million (most are studios), with the ante going up for the second. Amenities will include a restaurant and a swimming pool.
Wynn was planning an expansion of his 50-story, curved, bronze-colored resort even before he opened the doors in 2005.
Budgeted at $2.1 billion, the new hotel tower, Encore, will have more than 2,000 rooms, from executive suites to duplex sky villas and penthouses. There will be a 72,000-square-foot casino, additional restaurants, nightclubs, swimming pools, and retail stores.
One of the most ambitious entertainment and residential projects ever undertaken, CityCenter is likely to influence development in Las Vegas.
Historically, the Strip's sprawling buildings have possessed a self-contained convenience, but there was little sense of community.
In contrast, CityCenter is trying to create a neighborhood of sophistication, where its visitors and residents will stroll among seven buildings, to eat, shop and be entertained. Five high-rises will be devoted to guest rooms, residential condo or condo-hotel units.
Although the buildings are being designed by star architects, the most distinctive may be the Veer Towers, an aptly named pair of 37-story, inclining glass high-risers.
An entertainment and retail district will front on Las Vegas Boulevard, with some shops, such as a gourmet grocery, catering to the resort's residential population.
The largest structure - a 61-story, 4,000-room centerpiece tower - will be more conventional by Las Vegas standards, meaning it will include a massive casino, 18 restaurants, six bars and lounges, an 1,850-seat theater, convention center, spa, fitness center, salon, and four-pool swimming area.
Altogether, CityCenter will have about 7,600 living spaces on 76 acres. The resort will have its own public transit system - a tram that will link to MGM Mirage resorts Bellagio to the north and Monte Carlo to the south.
If you want to see what's coming, including sample condo units, you can visit the sales pavilion just south of Monte Carlo.
Plans for Boyd Gaming Corp.'s $4 billion project on the north end of the Strip (where the Stardust once stood) have some similarities to CityCenter.
For instance, Echelon Place with have about 5,300 high-end guest rooms in five hotels of varying styles, including Shangri-La, a Delano and a Mondrian. The largest hotel, the Echelon Resort, will have about 2,600 rooms in one tower and 700 rooms in a suites tower.
It also will have a huge casino, dozens of restaurants and entertainment venues, a shopping promenade, and a convention center.
But, unlike CityCenter, there are no condos on the drawing board. Still, there are about 20 acres of the total 87 that could be used for that purpose.
Echelon president and CEO Bob Boughner says a key objective is to cut down on the walking that guests have to do - a bane for many visitors.