City Center: Perhaps it will improve with age
CityCenter, the new sprawling casino resort on the Las Vegas Strip, has yet to realize developers' dreams.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
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LAS VEGAS — CityCenter, the sprawling casino resort composed of seven architecturally daring buildings on the Strip, has been open for about seven months. And while the $8.5 billion complex of hotels, condos, and a shopping mall succeeds in many ways, it falls short in others.
When the project was announced about six years ago, CityCenter's loftiest ambition was to create a 21st-century urban enclave with a harmonious sense of place.
That has not been entirely realized. At least, not yet.
To be fair, it is to the credit of CityCenter's developers, MGM Resorts International and a subsidiary of Dubai World, that the project was completed at all, given the harsh economic climate. Despite plummeting tourist visits here, CityCenter's flagship building, the Aria hotel-casino, opened on schedule in December. And Aria does deliver top-shelf gambling, dining, and lodging experiences in a stylish environment.
However, when former MGM Resorts CEO Terry Lanni introduced the CityCenter concept, he was hopeful that this city-within-a-city would transcend being a luxury resort and establish a sense of permanence in a place famous for imploding and rebuilding every few decades.
That's why CityCenter includes about 900 residential condos among its approximately 6,800 guest rooms and suites, and why Lanni originally likened the shopping scene to Manhattan's.
"Say, a Dean & DeLuca (grocery) like you would find in New York ... and a drugstore," he said. People expect to find all their needs met in one place, Lanni said, and that's what CityCenter was supposed to do.
CityCenter does have a mall, Crystals, but there's no gourmet supermarket to provision a luxury condo, no drugstore, and no dry cleaner. Instead, the retail lineup is emphatically upscale and hardly utilitarian: Vuitton, Cartier, and Bulgari, for example.
Then again, CityCenter also is lacking the residents and longer-stay guests, since only a handful of the condos are occupied.
The Veer Towers — two slightly inclined high-rises — each have 335 residential condos, and only recently have buyers begun to close on sales and move in. When owners have settled in, maybe CityCenter will evolve, but for now, it's an exquisite resort without a genuine personality.
For instance, the interior of Aria — with a 150,000-square foot casino, 16 restaurants, and generous natural lighting — gets high marks for style and functionality, while the grounds outside generally fall flat. Notable exceptions are a handful of outdoor pieces of public art that are among $40 million in sculptures, wall hangings, and ceiling suspensions spread throughout the complex.
Otherwise, the streetscape is sterile, and pedestrians find little to browse and no real outdoor oasis for relaxing. There's an attempt at a tiny pocket park with a Henry Moore sculpture — an abstraction of a baby held by its mother — but instead of providing a respite from the bustle of the resort, the park is in the line of foot traffic exiting the shopping mall.
Surprisingly, there is no must-see focal point at CityCenter, like as the water fountains in front of the Bellagio, which have been captivating passers-by for more than a decade.
At Aria's entrance, there are two water features — a fountain that squirts streams of water tinged with flashes of color, and an expansive cascading water wall. But those decorative elements, while attractive, fail to engage.
It would be unfair to compare the urban environment of CityCenter with real cities. The personality of a metropolis develops over decades — or centuries — while CityCenter is in its infancy.
But the 67-acre complex has had the advantage of starting with a blank canvas, bankrolled with billions of dollars. So perhaps the grand design of providing a sense of place is achievable with maturity.
A woeful real estate market has limited the influx of condo owners to a trickle, yet the mall is about 70 percent full. So, in time, there may be adjustments to the range of shopping, since Vegas resorts are constantly tweaking as they figure out what works and what doesn't.
In CityCenter's case, what works are the traditional elements of a vibrant, sophisticated casino-hotel. What's missing is the vitality and character that define a community.
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.