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CityCenter / ARIA Reconsidered

By Chuckmonster on Tuesday, 16th September 2008 6:25pm
  » filed under Las Vegas  comments: 12


Boardwalk - ARIA, Before and After

The ARIA Resort & Casino hotel tower has topped out construction and will finish installation of the glass curtain wall by December 2008, one year ahead of CityCenter's late 2009 grand opening.

Yay hooray!

Or nay?

The old sarcastic cliche goes : "there are no stupid questions, just stupid people." Allow me to demonstrate my stupidity by asking a slew of stupid-free questions :

Why did they build this again?

Given the current economic situation and how it's decimated Vegas travel numbers, CityCenter's grandiose scope and budget is beginning to seem more and more like a monument, than a resort. Possibly even a gigantic glass and steel tombstone etched with "Here lies the high flying days of "What Happens Here" Vegas."

Fueled by marketing - the poker boom, non-stop parade of Vegas TV shows & movies, the mega excitement generated by the opening of Wynn Las Vegas and the rise of celebutard powered ultralounges - Vegas of the early-mid 00's made point after point at the business strategy craps table. Then, like any gambler with a spine or penchant for losing, Vegas placed max odds on the future, stacking billions of chips behind consolidated acerage, fancy architectural renderings with 3-D flythroughs, hunger for the high roller market share and firm belief in the Field of Dreams Principle.

If built and staffed as exquisitely as designed, yes, they will come... but will they be able to afford stay, play and eat there?

Steve Wynn recently said (I'm paraphrasing here) that his customer ba$e is less affected by trends in the economy, somewhat insulating Wynn from budgetary wrinkles. The same could be said for other top tier resorts - Bellagio etc - of which ARIA aims to be. But how big is that pie? And what about those of us who are forced to do endless hours of comparison shopping when making Vegas plans?

The intense fighting over high roller VIP's in Macau proves that the pool of high rollers is not infinite, even in gamble-crazy booming China.

Will ARIA cannibalize Bellagio, munch Mirage and snack on Wynn/Encore's lunch? All the while being eaten itself, Ouroboros-ly, by it's own financing stream - CityCenter's condo tower components? Is the pool of the wealthy that large to support such grand designs? Will Joe G. Public be able to swing a deluxe standard at ARIA, even if the economy does a 180? Will the wager - a belief that folks would happily pay for luxury and spiffy architecture - be lost in a perfect storm of 7's, then scooped into the ether by the boxman?

I know this post is long on questions and short on answers... which more a sign of the times than anything else. With major financial institutions failing left and right, it's difficult to see any silver lining in the announcement that ARIA has topped out... mostly because I'm confident that a lot of us won't be able afford to stay there. It's also worth wondering if keeping the Boardwalk might have been a bigger profit generator over the mid-term, given CityCenter's staggering $9.x billion dollar price tag.

I'm sure we'll all agree that it's hard... really hard... to step away from the table when the dice are hot.



Comments & Discussion:

ARIA is only gonna do well if they bring back Purple Reign like Bordwalk had

A lot in the post... and a topic along these lines is on the VegasGang slate for this week... but some random thoughts, in no specific order:

* I don't think that Aria will hit Wynn's customer base that hard, for the same reason that it may not hit Bellagio. Those places were built with a philosophy that is totally opposed to City Center - not a dense, office tower like setup but a lushly landscaped, open design. Both will have high high quality finishes, incredible rooms and amenities but it's impossible to look at City Center (or out from its rooms I assume) and not feel a bit cold - it just doesn't seem personal, at least at this point. It's the opposite of human scale.

* I think many assume they are betting for the long view - that the economy will recover (or we'll just hit another bubble and be in a cycle of boom and bust for decades).

If MGM Mirage wanted to, they could have bank-rolled the entire project. They chose to bring in a partner to share the risk (and reward) which I think indicates that even they are hedging a bit. Nothing wrong with that but City Center could fail and MGM Mirage would still be around. It's not a 'bet the farm' kinda place like perhaps Wynn Las Vegas was for circa-2005 Wynn Resorts.

Could they build it? I guess so. Should they have? Remains to be seen.

I think it's very very interesting as someone that covers Las Vegas. Do I want to stay there? Other than wanting to report on it and be well versed in its pros and cons, I probably wouldn't pick the City for a vacation... I have doubts its where the hot craps action will be for anyone not hitting the black chip tables.

MGM Mirage has been fascinating to watch. First of all, they are removing personality from their resorts, especially the rooms. All of the rooms seem to be "right now hip" themed. The design is clean and current, on par with other nice hotels around the world. This is especially noticeable at Mirage and Treasure Island. At least they kept the volcano.

Anyway, the rooms at Aria seem to be the same deal. They're nice, but they're certainly not Wynn rooms. So, other than being new, why would Aria compete with Wynn. There are high rollers with "no taste" that will certainly go there because its new, but I don't see Wynn aficionados really getting too excited.

Then long term, it's just one more MGM Mirage hotel with no distinctive theme and decent rooms with a current design. It seems that to get anything different or special (up or down) you need to leave this chain. That's the opposite of diversification, and that's dangerous.

But we'll see what happens. Like Steve Wynn says, if City Center is super successful it will change the way people look at Vegas development. My guess is it won't be.

Strange as it sounds, I'm kind of hoping for ARIA to be a failure, simply to teach the bigwigs at MGM-Mirage (and the casino corporations in general) that bland, themeless, expensive hotel with no personality are NOT what people want.

I'm just waiting for someone to build an upper-mid priced hotel with a unique (not trendy) vibe and sit back and see the profits. Planet Hollywood came pretty damn close, just compare the response with that place versus the Palazzo.

This CityCenter monstrosity is just...I don't know. It looks out of place on the Strip. The Strip is not supposed to be a glass enclosed "downtown" looking place and if the hotels they keep putting up are going to look like this (all glass front towers) it's going to end up looking like a themeless downtown blah.
As far as ARIA stealing Wynn's business. I doubt that. The Wynn hotel reminds me of a really upscale country club. Rich people like that. I haven't seen any artistic renderings of the inside of ARIA but from the renderings I've seen for Vdara and the Harmon, it's all that sleek ultra-modern decor. That only gets so far. Once every hotel out there goes with this decor they're going to go from being "hip" to all looking the same and it's going to get old...really really fast. It's like the buffets out there, it's only a matter of time before it all looks and tastes the same.

They don't care about the regular people who only play the $5 and $10 tables, the answer to us is "go downtown, thats what it's there for." LoL

Once these places go under, Circus Circus is going to pick them up for a song. Aria will look great all done up with pink & white striped wallpaper!

Anything to get that fuggin' helicopter tours launchpad off the strip. Congratulations, you nearly clipped Monte Carlo! Again! 5 points for you!

Okay, I'm posting again because I just read some of the other comments here.

Hunter feels too impersonal at CityCenter, and I can understand that. The buildings are crowded and a road runs through it and the Cosmo is right there and it all feels like a lot built in a tight amount of space. But, if it works, it could signal a new sort of downtown area, and the end of current resorts that feel free to suck up a lot of space because they can.

Honestly, I guess I'm just jazzed by the whole architecture thing, because I live here and pine for "normal" cities with real downtowns and densities, and a lot of the Strip displays poor land management simply because, well, land was cheap once. I see CityCenter as Downtown By Reaganomics, attempting to boost the architectural profile and shift land use into something more urban and less of these giant funhouse resorts we have now.

Unlike a real urban square planned by a hands-on government, it has no interests in anyone living there below the top 1%, but oh well. We're pretty much doomed to let private interests dictate the heart of the city under present political circumstances anyway barring a wacky amalgamation across the valley.

I guess what I'm trying to say is travel around and you'll see that, architecturally speaking, the Strip is a dump and a bit of a land pig. The truth is, though, it doesn't matter how tacky a place looks so long as it maintains a positive balance. That MGM is actually trying to make the hotel look nicer than it needs to be to simply make money, is an interesting standpoint. They could have just chucked up another foam-clad caricature of European design and probably made money.

Robbie classifies people into the groups of "Wynn aficionados" and "no taste." I'm not sure what to make of that. Wynn's rooms aren't that special, the biggest advantage over the rest is the amount of technology on display, and any hotel being built can have a fat bandwith pipe and a VOIP system built into it.

Just for the record, I never said anything referring to "Wynn aficionados", I believe MinVegas is referring to Kody's comment.

I will say this though, I'm a proud fan of the "funhouse resorts" that hopefully will not become a thing of the past.

I too love the *idea* of a dense downtown type vibe, a la New York, et al.

I just have serious doubts that City Center is going to get there for Las Vegas.

There's no reason to even go into most of the buildings unless you have a condo or are staying there since they only have a lobby.

The shopping mall will probably be a really really nice version of a shopping mall and when you're inside it will feel like any other shopping mall.

And then ARIA, once you get inside will it really feel like something other than a nicer MGM Grand? It's going to be huge huge huge so it has the vastness thing going on.

I dunno. I love that MGM Mirage wanted to step it up with great architects. I just wish they had given one firm the contract and put about half the square footage on the site.

I'm not so pessimistic on CityCenter. A lot of resorts are pieced together through expansions after expansion, but this is going to be one large cohesive experienec. I think that granduer and complexity will be an attraction, much like any downtown high rise skyline is. I'm interested to see if the talk about unique hotel features, like natural lighting in the hallways, really turns out to be something substantial. If ARIA really offers some innovative new features in hotel design, word of mouth would travel and it could make other strip hotels look behind the times very quickly. With that said, I think there's too many condos on the project. Wouldn't be surprised to see only a handlful of lights on inside Veer or Vdara even on a weekend.

I recently moved from NY to Vegas, so for someone whose friends typically classify Vegas as kitschy or tacky, it's nice to see project city center moving away from the faux nature and theming of the strip and bringing in serious architects and artists. From a culture perspective, it seems like a move in the right direction.

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