The Las Vegas you know and love (or hate) is in the midst of a reinvention.
More than US$5 billion worth of construction investment has poured into “Sin City” recently – resulting in such flashy ribbon-cuttings as the US$375 million T-Mobile arena (home venue to the Vegas Golden Knights, a team that just advanced to the conference finals in its first season) and plans for an NFL team (born the Oakland Raiders) to play in a glitzy, new US$2 billion stadium.
That’s just sports. The convention centre, which gets flooded with international visitors for conferences, from the Consumer Electronic Show to the Roller Skating Industry Convention, is being overhauled and expanded at a cost of US$1.4 billion, and hotel mainstays, from the Palms to Caesars, are getting nine-figure renovations.
It’s a boom unlike any the city has seen in almost 30 years.
“The 1990s were when we came out with the marketing campaign, ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’,” explains Rossi Ralenkotter, CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “International trade shows were starting to come into town. Las Vegas was just becoming an exciting place.”
It was the only real boom since the city came of age in the late 1970s. “That was when Steve Wynn built the Mirage and all those resorts came in. The legalisation of the gaming scene in Atlantic City made us wonder what we needed to do to compete,” Ralenkotter says.
Fast forward to 2018, and the city is due for another marketing makeover. Following the mass shooting that took place in October, the city has experienced a tourism slump of 4.2 per cent.
Luckily for all that bet big on Sin City, the current growth should do more than keep Vegas relevant. Look no farther than the US$550 million revamp of the Monte Carlo, which officially becomes the Park MGM this week. The new hotel – the result of a four-year collaboration between MGM CEO Jim Murren and hotel luminary Andrew Zobler (whose hotels include Manhattan’s NoMad and L.A.’s the Line) – is poised to be Vegas’s new entertainment and dining hub.
Among its draws are 2,604 glamorous rooms designed by Jacques Garcia, three intimate pools inspired by the French Riviera, the sixth American outpost of Eataly, and more than a dozen restaurants by a who’s who of influential chefs. Even such big names as Daniel Humm and Will Guidara – of Eleven Madison Park – and L.A. entrepreneur Roy Choi are getting in on the fun.
A new flagship
“We’d invested billions in the neighbourhood surrounding the Monte Carlo,” Murren says. “And yet it had become a dormitory for people coming to town; it had terrible brand awareness.”
The unremarkable thoroughfare that leads from the old Monte Carlo to T-Mobile Arena – itself a joint venture between MGM Resorts International and Anschutz Entertainment Group – has become the new jewel in Murren’s crown. He’s calling it “The Park”, and it’s the outdoor equivalent of City Center, the architectural marvel filled with high-end shops that almost bankrupted MGM in 2009. (The company scraped together funds just before it would have defaulted, and the shopping centre endured.)
This time, the complex includes the 20,000-seat arena, a theatre next door, an urban park, a 40-foot-tall statue of a dancing woman (near an 18,000-square-foot nightclub), and a full suite of fast-casual restaurants, including Shake Shack.
The Park MGM – whose top floors will house a separate NoMad hotel – will anchor the complex, turning the sad Monte Carlo into the strip’s gleaming new flagship. It’ll steal attention from MGM’s highest-end hotel, the Bellagio, as well as the most recent hotel to bring such buzz to Vegas: the eight-year-old Cosmopolitan.
Everything Vegas was missing
“People who had done lifestyle in Vegas were using a model that was 15 years old,” says Andrew Zobler, CEO of Sydell Group, who was introduced to MGM via his partner, investor Ron Burkle. “It was all about what happened after midnight.” With Park MGM, he aims to break that mould – and several others.
The design of the common areas is inspired by 18th century English gardens. The restaurants are broken into small rooms, rather than overwhelmingly large spaces. And instead of having one giant pool with a DJ, there are three more intimate places to swim – all surrounded by date palms, olive trees, and mint-green cabanas. The rooms aren’t blingy; they feel residential, with settees in window nooks, separate sleeping and sitting areas, and more than a dozen pieces of art apiece. By bringing the outdoors in – and importing the type of high-touch service that characterises Sydell Group’s hotels, from New York’s NoMad to the Ned, in London – Zobler intends to create a boutique-like, all-day destination unlike anything else on the Strip.
That doesn’t mean it won’t be Vegas. There will still be two casinos, a high-roller suite, and conference centre on the property, plus a 5,200-seat theatre that has already booked shows presenting Cher and Lady Gaga.
A red-hot culinary line-up
The Park MGM’s food and beverage line-up largely comprises Sin City first-timers. “I have always said, ‘We are never going to Vegas’,” jokes Will Guidara, co-owner of Make It Nice hospitality group, which includes the world’s No. 1 restaurant, Eleven Madison Park. “Usually, when you leave a Vegas restaurant, no matter how good it is, you’re in an overly lit casino floor.
Whatever magic you created in the dining room instantly disappears.” Not so at his upcoming NoMad restaurant – coming this fall – whose patrons will be able to enter directly from the street. “It felt unique in Vegas, which we like,” Guidara says.
Roy Choi, creator of Los Angeles’s Kogi BBQ, is another Vegas newcomer. (His restaurant, Best Friend, will open in autumn.) “Locals always stayed off the strip,” he says. “Now, with the arena right on the strip, it’s blurring the lines. It’s feeling like a fully evolved city.”
That’s something Zobler sees as integral to his success. “A lot of hotels on the Strip don’t attract locals,” he says, “but bringing in locals is a Sydell thing.” It was part of the motivation in courting the city’s first Eataly – which will deliver a modern twist on the food courts and buffets that Vegas visitors love.
“Vegas has 50 million visitors per year, mostly American,” says Nicola Farinetti, CEO of Eataly USA, by email. “We felt that it was a great opportunity for us to talk to a vast audience about quality food.” But she will concede to the massive tourist market in one key way – by deprioritising retail. “We are going to integrate even more of the marketplace with restaurants,” promised Farinetti.
“The best deal in Vegas”
Not all these puzzle pieces will debut simultaneously. Although the Park MGM signage has gone up, the NoMad, the nightclub, and Eataly – plus a few other small spaces – will open by year-end. “We won’t have the official opening party until everything is done, towards the end of the year,” Zobler says.
Until that happens, rates at the new Park MGM will be in keeping with the old ones at the outdated Monte Carlo. “It’s crazy cheap right now,” jokes Zobler. “Hands down, it’s the best deal in Vegas.”