Photo of fireworks atop the Aria Hotel and Casino on its opening day: December, 16, 2009.
At $11 billion (with a "b"), the 68-acre City Center is the costliest privately funded construction project in U.S. history, a joint development by MGM Mirage and Dubai World. Original cost estimates were in the $4 billion range, but delays, changes and inflation took its toll. To date more than $8 billion has been spent, but the project is far from complete. MGM Mirage sold its Treasure Island strip property for $750 million in order to raise enough cash to complete the project, which was started well before the recent financial and real-estate collapse (at one point MGM Vegas considered bankruptcy, and Dubai World sued MGM along the way, but that's too complicated for this blog).
Most of the hotels, restaurants and shops opened in December, 2009, after a mere 3 years of continuous 24-hour-a-day construction, following groundbreaking in June, 2006. When fully completed, City Center will employ more than 12,000 workers.
Of the four hotels in this complex (situated on Las Vegas Blvd. at Harmon, between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo properties), only the 61-story Aria has a casino (the gaming-free hotels are the all-suite Vdara, Mandarin Oriental and Harmon, the latter not yet opened and reduced from a planned 48 to 29 stories - it's complicated and more than you want to know; however, the Harmon's race-track oval architecture springs from the drafting table of Sir Norman Foster; how classy is that?). The 4,800 hotel rooms are bolstered by 2,400 residential units. The Mandarin Oriental has rack rates of $595, preposterous for Las Vegas. A quick Internet search discloses that rooms at the Mandarin Oriental are already being discounted to $298. All hotels except Aria are completely non-smoking. Trivia: the made-up name "Vdara" means nothing.
An unusual feature is the Veer Towers complex of matching 40-story residential buildings that slant and twist away from each other above Crystals, the 500,000 sq. ft. retail and entertainment development that looks for all the world as if architect Frank Gehry slept here (the copy-cat architect of Crystals is Daniel Libeskind with interiors designed by David Rockwell -- architectural and design royalty). If you have a hankerin' to blow $1200 on shoes, this is the place to do it, ladies.
In January, 2010, Cirque du Soleil (who else?) will unveil ELVIS at City Center (now in previews), its newest offering on the Vegas strip, here housed in a purple walled theater seating 1,800+.
A distinctive collection of contemporary art and sculpture enhances the complex, featuring some of the worlds most renowned artists, including Maya Lin, Jenny Holzer, Claes Oldenburg, Coosje Van Bruggen, Nancy Rubins, Frank Stella, Henry Moore, and Richard Long. The entire complex is so conservative and tasteful that it's hard to believe this is Vegas - nothing shaped like a pyramid, the Doge's Palace, Eiffel Tower or the NYC skyline fronts the Las Vegas Boulevard entrance. The only hint of wretched excess, the watchword of Vegas, is the immense scale of the project.
The fanciful 50-ft. tall canoe sculpture seen below is by Nancy Rubens:
It is important to note that six structures at City Center have received LEED Gold status; the multi-use project was designed with green technologies to make it one of the world's largest environmentally sustainable urban communities. Plans included the use of reclaimed water and an on-site power plant. Even the fleet of limos at the Aria hotel run on compressed natural gas. A tram connects City Center to its neighbors Bellagio and Monte Carlo (public transportation? what a concept!).
Note: Click photo to enlarge.