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June 24, 2019

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Aria convention expansion leads to closing of ‘Zarkana’

'Zarkana': Red Carpet and Show at Aria

Tom Donoghue/

Cirque du Soleil’s “Zarkana” at Aria on Friday, Nov. 9, 2012.

Updated Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015 | 5 p.m.

'Zarkana': Red Carpet and Show at Aria

Cirque du Soleil's Launch slideshow »

‘Zarkana’ Aerialists Perform in Aria Porte Cochere

British twin brothers Andrew and Kevin Atherton, Cirque du Soleil aerialists with “Zarkana,” perform under the monorail truss in Aria’s porte cochere Monday, March 3, 2014. The performance was promoting “Zarkana’s” reimagined show, which includes a new soundtrack and a new aerial straps act. Launch slideshow »

A $154 million convention center expansion is taking hold at Aria at a cost of the Cirque du Soleil production “Zarkana.”

Announced today are plans for a massive new expansion of the Aria convention center, which will cover an additional 200,000 square feet and overtake the lavish theater that has been home to “Zarkana” since that show opened in November 2012.

The theater was originally designed for the Cirque show “Viva Elvis,” which also closed, in 2012. The new convention center is the center of a new entertainment strategy at the CityCenter resort.

The fortress is to cover four stories with meeting space enclosed in glass walls with views of the under-development The Park retail and entertainment promenade and also of the under-development Las Vegas Arena.

According to a news release issued today, the expansion will give Aria more than a half-million square feet of luxury meeting space on a choice parcel facing the Strip.

As for “Zarkana,” buzz about the show possibly closing has been permeating the entertainment scene for the past few weeks. The show moved into the venue from a run at Radio City Music Hall in New York and was positioned as a more traditional Cirque vehicle than the one it replaced, “Viva Elvis,” which was an often-unsteady adaptation of Elvis Presley’s life and career.

“Zarkana” is the second Cirque show to close in Las Vegas. But the emphasis from the MGM Resorts International and Aria hierarchy is this explosive expansion is a great business move.

Bobby Baldwin, Aria’s president and COO, said in the news release today, “Convention business at Aria is booming, and demand is currently exceeding the space we have available. Hosting large meetings and conventions is a core part of our business. As our clients’ needs grow, we are committed to grow with them.”

“We have 300,000 square feet of convention space, and there was a great deal of pressure for us to expand from many of our clients and companies who do business with us,” Baldwin said during a phone interview this afternoon. “We started looking at how we would do that, and the most logical way was to repurpose the theater, which is right next to our convention space.”

Baldwin said that Cirque remains an important live-entertainment partner for MGM Resorts properties (all Cirque shows, save “Mystere” at T.I., are in MGM Resorts properties), and the hotel would continue to drive business to those shows at other hotels. There are no plans, he said, to build another live-entertainment venue on the property.

“We have a lot of entertainment available in our neighborhood already,” he said. “We have the new (5,000-seat) Monte Carlo Theater, the Las Vegas Arena, The Park, all under construction.”

Baldwin said the cast and production team of “Zarkana” would be absorbed into other Cirque productions on the Strip and elsewhere. The show is the second major Las Vegas production to announce it is closing this month; officials at “Jubilee” at Bally’s informed the cast and crew Saturday night that the 34-year-old show would close Feb. 11.

At Aria, discussions of an extensive convention center build-out began seven months ago. The project should take 18 months to complete, so look for a February 2018 opening of that space.

“We have a lot of entertainment in this company,” Baldwin said, referring to the grand MGM Resorts family of hotels. “But what we need is convention space.”

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