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Best of Gary Trask
CityCenter grand opening brings a renewed optimism to Las Vegas21 December 2009
LAS VEGAS – The wide eyes and eager smile of Jeff Korbelik told you everything you needed to know about the sentiment towards the dazzling new CityCenter project in Las Vegas late Wednesday night. The 46-year-old Nebraska native was one of thousands of people to stream through the doors of the Aria Resort & Casino just before midnight, seconds after the centerpiece of the new development on the Las Vegas Strip officially opened for business.
"This is great; I wouldn't have missed it for the world," Korbelik said as he walked briskly toward one of the brand spanking-new slot machines on the 150,000 square-foot casino floor. "I've heard so much about this place over the last few years. We wanted to be here for the opening. From what I've seen so far, I'm glad I made the trip."
(Get a closer look as Gary Trask returns from the grand opening and compiles his Top-10 list of facts and figures from CityCenter )
In brief, this was the feeling everyone who was present for last week's grand opening gala seemed to have for the lavish $8.5-billion project. Everyone from the employees, to the city's cab drivers to MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren had glowing things to say about the potential of CityCenter and what it could mean to Las Vegas, a city that has been hit quite hard by the economic recession.
"We believe Las Vegas is a better place today," Murren said earlier that day at a sun-splashed press conference in front the 270-foot-long water wall and a dancing fountain outside the main entrance to Aria. "We believe people from all over the world and from right here in Las Vegas want to be wowed and impressed, awed and inspired."
There were certainly plenty of "oohs" and "aahs" coming from the masses of people who packed Wednesday night's grand opening. A VIP guest list of nearly 5,000 people got the first chance to see Aria in full motion on Wednesday when the doors opened for the party around 7:30 p.m. Showgirls were serving trays of champagne and the resort's 16 restaurants and 10 bars welcomed the guests to sample their food and drink.
"I bought a condo at Vdara right when they were being offered a few years back and now I can't believe the day has finally come where I can get a chance to actually see it and use it," said a gentleman from New York who declined to give us his name. "It was a gamble. But, hey, this is Las Vegas. No matter what's happened with the market, I'm thrilled to be here and to be a part of this whole thing."
At around 11:30 p.m., a spectacular fireworks display went off the roof of Aria as thousands of people gathered outside for the chance to be among the first to enter the new casino. Just before midnight as the fireworks came to a grand finale, the doors swung open and the patrons came flying through the main entrance with the look of a kid on Christmas morning on their faces.
"I've been to a ton of different casino openings since I moved out here in 1962, and unfortunately I've seen a lot of casino closings too," said 52-year-old Vegas resident Ron Singer, who is originally from Chicago. "I go to all the openings and get a $5 chip and mount them all on my wall at home. So I had to be here tonight. It's a historic event for the city."
Within 20 minutes the entire casino was full. Slot machines were humming and blackjack dealers were dealing. The sportsbook counter started taking wagers and the elaborate poker room saw its tables fill up quickly.
"I just wanted to come over and see what it was all about and so far I'm really impressed," said well-known poker pro Joe Sebok as he walked through the poker room. "It seems like this place is going to live up to the hype, that's for sure."
In addition to the casino and restaurants opening for business at Aria, so did the hotel rooms. The guestrooms at both Aria and Mandarin Oriental are some of the nation's most technologically advanced. Each guest's stay is choreographed to meet their personal preferences and those preferences are saved for the next time they visit. As guests approach their room it recognizes if it is their first time in the room and greets them as they enter. Light fills the room, the curtains open automatically and the 42-inch LCD HDTV turns on to display a list of automated controls to personalize.
Guests can select "scenes" matching their mood or preference, which modify all settings at once. For example, each room features a "good night" button next to the bed. With one touch, guests can turn off the lights, TV and/or music; shut the curtains; and turn on the privacy notification for the room.
The advanced-options rooms are just one of the reasons that help the catchy slogan surrounding CityCenter – "Welcome to a New World" – more than ring true.
"Five years ago I went to the MGM Mirage board with an idea for a gathering place, a place for Las Vegas to enjoy, interact and believe," Murren said. "Every city needs that kind of place and we haven't had that in Las Vegas, until now. And that place is called CityCenter.
"There's only one thing left for me to say and it's something I've been looking forward to saying for five years now. Welcome to CityCenter. Enjoy!"
Best of Gary Trask