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As ambience goes, though, CityCenter certainly delivers something that does not exist in Las Vegas: It’s a reversal of the more intimate, sedate direction Wynn had been heading when he opened Wynn and, more recently, Encore.
“CityCenter is nothing if not grand,” Hillegas says. “The sheer magnitude of the thing is something to behold. They’re pumping a lot of stuff into a relatively small parcel.”
Until this dream team of architects was deployed, the most interesting building on the Strip was the pyramid-shaped Luxor, the rest being Y- or L- or C-shaped hotel towers dressed up to appear Parisian or Italian or medieval. CityCenter provides a Whitman Sampler of shapes, colors and styles, each with different appeal and functions that, in and of themselves, Murren asserts, will be the primary attractions.
What you don’t hear Murren or his people discuss a whole lot is the casino. Aria has many intriguing Vegas-standard facets — a new menu of star-chef eateries, a pretty buffet, several water features from the whizzes behind the Bellagio Fountains, including one that freezes and unfreezes in midair. But the casino itself is one public space not bathed in natural light or adorned by any art worth mentioning. Its 140,000 square feet, which includes 1,950 slot machines, is the only gambling parlor on a campus of 18 million square feet. “It doesn’t feel like a place built by a gambler,” Hillegas says.
Indeed, Murren has spent much of the past few years trying to reframe MGM Mirage as more of a hospitality company than a gaming one, embarking on hotel-only ventures in Egypt, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and mainland China. To show just how differently he views CityCenter, he eschews the question of whether it is an evolution for Las Vegas or a total departure, touting his ignorance of the two most recent Strip resorts to debut.
“I’ve never been in Encore, when did it open up?” he asks. “I’ve never been into Palazzo. It’s not that I don’t care, I just don’t need to go. I have nothing against either one of those guys, especially Steve Wynn. I like him a lot. But CityCenter is not just going to be for most people the same as just another resort opening up. It’s different. It’s special.”
Will Anyone Care About Art, Sustainability?
If it surprises you that the likes of Maya Lin or Nancy Rubins would create for the Strip, it frankly surprises them, too. Neither artist had set foot in Las Vegas until they came in 2006 to meet with CityCenter art consultant Michele Quinn and other MGM Mirage brass.
Lin, the sculptor of such somber sites as the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., actually burst out in giggles as she made her way through the casino at Bellagio. “They were gambling in the middle of the day,” she marveled. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Rubins had a similar response: “I never in my mind thought a sculpture of mine would live in Las Vegas, but one’s work ends up in all kinds of places.”
To hear Quinn tell it, the selling point for both artists, as well as many of the architects involved, was CityCenter’s unprecedented efforts to build green, which paid off in recent months with the USGBC’s highest rating, a clean sweep of LEED Gold certifications.
While many mock the idea that anything built in Las Vegas can be considered sustainable, entire cottage industries for recycling construction waste, providing sustainably produced wood and divining more water-efficient high-end faucet spouts sprang up thanks to the incentive to do business with an $8.5 billion project.
CityCenter has its own co-generation power plant equipped to capture and reuse heat that otherwise would dissipate. “I think to execute the vision of CityCenter, you had to believe at the end it had to be a city of the future, and what we found was that universally it was believed that the city of the future had to be sustainable,” says Cindy Ortega, MGM Mirage’s senior vice president for energy and environmental services. They imploded a small casino, the Boardwalk, which sat on the property, for instance. “We were going to use as much of the demolition waste as we could, but there wasn’t a company in Nevada that could do it so we capitalized the company.”
There is one area that LEED exempted: the casino. Ortega said the company decided it was unfeasible to ban smoking. More than half of Asians smoke, she says, and this is a critical piece of any high-end Vegas gaming enterprise. Permitting smoking is an automatic no-no from USGBC.
That said, the casino makes certain strides for Vegas, creating a 50-foot-wide no-smoking region that cuts through the center of the gaming floor to create the prospect that “a nonsmoker is never exposed to cigarette smoke.” Powerful air-handling systems avoid having it waft into other parts of the casino. “The air will often be cleaner than outside air,” Ortega gushes. Card dealers are shielded from secondhand smoke exhaled by customers by an air curtain that, she says, pushes the air skyward before it reaches them.