Vegas Ups the Ante



The Las Vegas Strip’s first hotel-casino opened just as the Great Depression was coming to a close. Built in 1941 for under $500,000, the El Rancho Vegas triggered a high-stakes development game that now translates into $6.1 billion in annual gaming revenue, more than 37 million yearly visitors, and a gay following that adores the anything-goes spectacle of it all.

So perhaps it’s a sign that the city’s latest megadevelopment, CityCenter, has opened at what most of us are hoping is the tail end of the greatest recession since the El Rancho opened. Since breaking ground in 2006, MGM Mirage and Infinity World Development Corp. (a subsidiary of a Dubai-based investment company) have spent more than $8 billion transforming 67 acres between the Monte Carlo and Bellagio resorts into a vision of Vegas’s future. It’s a city within Sin City—a quartet of glistening high-rise hotels and a residential pair of golden-checkered glass sheaths that tilt like Pisa’s iconic monument.

Instead of the Disney-for-adults design that proliferated during the 1990s, CityCenter continues the sleek aesthetic that took root when Mandalay Bay opened its sexy, casino-free tower, THEhotel, in 2003. There are no mini Eiffel Towers in sight, and the only great pyramids are filtered through a cubist lens in Studio Daniel Libeskind’s sprawling Crystals, a retail and entertainment complex that houses a who’s who of luxury retailers, including the inaugural Las Vegas boutiques from Tom Ford and Paul Smith.

The site also pops with green spaces, elaborate water features, and a $40 million fine art project with existing pieces and commissioned installations straight out of the MoMA playbook: Maya Lin’s 84-foot silver cast of the Colorado River dangles in Aria’s lobby while Henry Moore’s abstract travertine sculpture of mother and child rests in CityCenter’s public park.