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Best of Gary Trask
LAS VEGAS -- Of all the facts and figures that have been tossed around regarding CityCenter, there's one number that always jumps right off the page -- $8.5 billion. It signifies the astounding amount of money it cost to build the new development on the Las Vegas Strip and it's a price tag that will be well worth it if CityCenter can help revitalize this great city like most people are hoping it will.
Last week, I was one of the 500 or so media members from across the world to attend the grand opening gala and I'm here to report that once you get an up-close view of CityCenter, it's easy to see how this project soared over the original budget of $5 billion. Trust me when I tell you that no expenses were spared and no short cuts were taken. CityCenter -- a joint venture between MGM Mirage and Dubai World -- is spectacular in many ways.
So as I dug through all of the press materials I received and combed through the two notebooks I filled with random observations during my three-day stay, I came up with a list of intriguing numbers that pertain to CityCenter. This could have easily been a Top-50 list. But by eliminating some obscure fun facts (things like Aria Resort & Casino has 23 miles of elevator rails and 41,800 outlets, or there is enough fiber optic cable at CityCenter to circle the equator 4.1 times), I was able to stay with Casino City tradition and narrow the list down to 10 items.
10. 12,000 employees
"There's really no better symbol in the U.S. that the economy is beginning to turnaround than what we've created here with CityCenter," said MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren.
The people that now count CityCenter as their workplace were selected out of a pool of 100,000 applicants. Of the 12,000 employees, more than 4,000 are food and beverage employees – including 165 master cooks, 15 sommeliers, 255 bartenders and 60 bakers. Approximately 130 workers will work behind the scenes for the Viva ELVIS Cirque du Soleil show while more than 1,300 people work in the casino at Aria.
I spoke with multiple new CityCenter employees and found that they are genuinely excited about the new venture. And a constant throughout the development is a high priority on customer service. You will be treated like a VIP no matter where you go in CityCenter.
9. 18 million square feet
The centerpiece is Aria, a 10.3 million square-foot resort and the only building with gaming at CityCenter. The restaurants and bars alone at Aria take up nearly 250,000 square feet. Crystals – a high-end retail and dining district – takes up another 752,000 square feet. There's also an elaborate poker room and sports and race book as well as a 150,000 square-foot casino.
Aria also houses the new Elvis Theater (595,946 square feet) where the Cirque du Soleil show Viva ELVIS will run and a 215,000-square-foot pool area with 50 cabanas and an 80,000-square-foot spa, the largest among MGM Mirage properties. In addition there's a 300,000-square-foot, three-level conference center.
8. $28 million
A bulk of this money went to the construction of Station 32, the first fire station in Nevada built specifically for a resort property. The 5,700-square-foot building opened last week and is located behind Vdara. The station is expected to become one of the busiest in the county and the 30 emergency calls it made on the very first day it opened did nothing to discredit that expectation.
While most new fire stations are more than 10,000 square feet and built on open land, Station 32 is a 5,700 square-foot building with just six rooms. Medical calls will make up about 75 percent of the department's calls and the station will also serve other resorts in the area.
7. 42 restaurants, bars and lounges
For fine dining, my favorite was Sirio Ristorante, but that may because I am biased toward Italian food. Nonetheless, Sirio's features traditional and contemporary Italian dishes from the famous Maccioni family, which also owns Le Cirque in New York City and at the Bellagio. Don't miss the Mini Lobster Pizza or the Roulade of Grilled Zucchini, as well as one of Las Vegas' largest selections of Italian vintage wines.
I also highly recommend Eva Longoria's new restaurant, Beso, which is at Aria inside the Crystals retail district. Beso, the Spanish word for "kiss," is a Latin-style steakhouse that features the culinary talents of renowned Chef Todd English. Longoria, who was in the house on opening night, has a similar restaurant in LA and the food has a unique flair to it. And the service was outstanding. I also experienced an "It's a Small World" moment as I was leaving the restaurant. After getting into a discussion with Executive Chef Isaac Carter we realized that we both grew up back east in Beverly, Mass., a city 20 miles north of Boston.
Upstairs from Beso is Longoria's 8,000-square-foot, Eve, which boasts 50-foot ceilings and is plastered with all kinds of golds and mirror walls. From what I heard while in town, this is going to be the place to be on New Year's Eve as Longoria will make a return trip to Vegas to host the festivities.
Lemongrass, which serves Thai cuisine and a Satay Bar that offers charcoal-grilled beef, poultry, pork and seafood skewers, is your best bet for a more casual dining experience. And for desert you simply have to hit Jean Philippe Patisserie.
As for the bars and lounges, I loved The Gold Lounge (more on that next) as well as the Skybox Sports Bar and Grill, which has a classic sports bar menu and adjacent to the poker room and sportsbook.
6. 7 Elvis Cocktails
The choices are Blue Suede Shoes, Tupelo Tea, Love Me Tender, 24K, TCB (as in Taking Care of Business, the name of Elvis' band), Aviator (the style of sunglasses The King made famous) and Graceland. I started out with the Graceland concoction, which was described by my inviting bartender Jessica as an "Asian restaurant in a glass" and is a mix of Belvedere Vodka, ginger liqueur, simple syrup and fresh lemon juice with a piece of ginger candy as a garnish. It's different and delicious. I also enjoyed the Blue Suede Shoes, which features Grey Goose L'Orange, Blue Curacao, white cranberry juice, simple syrup, lime juice and a large orange slice as a garnish. The drinks are pricey (around $17 each), but tasty and powerful.
5. 61, 57, 47, 37 stories
Aria is the tallest at 61 stories followed by Vdara (57), Mandarin Oriental (47) and the Harmon Hotel (37), which will be completed in 2010 and was originally scheduled to be as high as 50 stories. Aria is missing floors 40-49 because when the number four is pronounced in Chinese, it sounds like the word for death.
4. $40 million
My favorite piece is called "Big Edge" and it sits in the middle of the traffic circle outside the front entrance of Vdara. This imposing piece of work is pretty simple when you get a closer look. It's a colorful collection of about 200 rowboats, kayaks, canoes, surfboards, paddle boats and catamarans wrapped together with thousands of pounds of stainless steel wire cable forming a web-like structure that is designed to "evoke a blooming flower."
The mastermind behind the piece is Nancy Rubins, an American sculptor and artisan famous for "gravity-defying" works created from salvaged industrial consumer goods like airplane parts, electrical appliances, mattresses and boats. "Big Edge" is 57-by-75-feet and took about six weeks to build. Quinn says she spent about three years crafting the idea.
3. 7,188 residences
The Veer Towers – which, by the way, actually to "veer" the side like the Leaning Tower of Pisa – will have 699 residences upon completion (the tower suites have rooftop pools). The Harmon Hotel will feature 400 guestrooms when finished next year.
2. 6 LEED Gold certifications
How is that possible? Well, for starters, during the four years of construction, CityCenter recycled more than 90 percent of all construction waste. Aria alone has more than 65,000 energy-efficient light bulbs and lamps in its guestrooms and the building will also save an estimated 31 million gallons of water annually. CityCenter also developed and commissioned the first fleet of stretch limos powered by clean-burning compressed natural gas.
Aria's primary energy-saving feature is its curtain wall, which uses a new generation of glass coatings that let daylight in while blocking the sun's heat-producing rays. Overall, CityCenter will eliminate the emission of 48,000 tons of greenhouse gases every year.
1. 67 acres
The buildings are connected by a free PeopleMover system (a fancy word for the type of tram you ride at Disney World) that moves at a top speed of 23 m.ph. and can take you from the Bellagio to Aria (the stop is at Crystals) to the Monte Carlo in less than five minutes.
Aria is the lone building that features gaming, but it sits right in the middle of CityCenter, making it easily accessible from everywhere. I stayed at Vdara -- which had, bar none, the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in -- and the hotel's front entrance is a quick two-minute walk to the back entrance of Aria. Vdara and Bellagio are also connected via a walkway of about 100 feet.
I was also pleasantly surprised to find that getting out to the Strip from CityCenter is also an easy walk and will be even easier once all of the walkways are completed. Or you can always make your way to the Strip by going through the Bellagio, which is always worth going through, especially this time of year when the Conservatory is decked out in its amazing holiday theme.
So despite the enormity of CityCenter, you never feel too far removed from the rest of the action in Las Vegas, although the beauty and allure of this smashing new development may make you feel like you never want to leave. And, that, is what the people at MGM Mirage were shooting for when the "city within a city" concept was originally mapped out way back in 2004. From my view, you can consider it a mission accomplished.