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It’s ‘L.V. Live,’ and a new Monte Carlo, as MGM Resorts reshapes the Strip

The Park Overview

MGM Resorts International

An artist’s rendering of MGM Resorts International’s project the Park, which will connect New York-New York and Monte Carlo with an eight-acre outdoor experience.

Updated Thursday, July 16, 2015 | 1:45 p.m.

Click to enlarge photo

Bill Hornbuckle, Madame Li and Feng Xie attend the welcoming ceremony for the historical Chinese photo exhibit “Looking Back After 30 Years” at Crystals on Feb. 2, 2010, in CityCenter.

AEG and MGM Resorts Arena Groundbreaking

Confetti flies as AEG and MGM Resorts International representatives and celebrities break ground on a new world-class indoor arena in Las Vegas onThursday, May 1, 2014.  The 20,000-seat sports and entertainment venue will be located near the heart of the famed Las Vegas Strip and adjacent to the I-15 corridor. Launch slideshow »

MGM Arena Construction: 1/8/15

The MGM Arena construction site on the Strip behind New York-New York and Monte Carlo on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015, as seen aboard a Maverick Helicopter. Launch slideshow »

The Park Artist Renderings

An artist’s rendering of MGM Resorts International’s project the Park, which will connect New York-New York and Monte Carlo with an eight-acre outdoor experience.  Launch slideshow »

The L.A. Live vibe is moving to the Strip.

That is the simplest way to describe the strategy behind MGM Resorts International’s development of a 5,000-seat theater at Monte Carlo formally announced Wednesday. For anyone who has visited the L.A. Live entertainment district in Los Angeles, the renderings appear unmistakably familiar to that city’s entertainment complex.

The Monte Carlo theater is to be positioned adjacent to a gleaming arena (Las Vegas Arena) in the same way Microsoft Theater (formerly Nokia Theater) has been built adjacent to Staples Center. MGM Resorts also is developing the Park, an 8-acre entertainment promenade leading to the arena. L.A. Live encompasses a similar complex of entertainment venues, restaurants, theaters, the Grammy Museum in a promenade separating Microsoft Theater and Staples Center.

And MGM’s Strip and L.A. projects share the same development partner, AEG Live. Thus, the inspiration for the venue at Monte Carlo is not incidental.

“I was down in L.A. with our partner AEG at Staples and L.A. Live and looking at Nokia (Microsoft) Theater,” MGM Resorts International President Bill Hornbuckle said in a phone interview Wednesday shortly after the company announced plans for its new Strip-side theater. “The adjacency of the plaza, theater and arena as an epic entertainment district was compelling.”

There it is — the word “epic.” Often tossed around as freely as cards in a poker game, but it fits here. There’s no argument that MGM Resorts’ latest moves over the last 18 months will forever change the look and offerings of the Strip.

The latest project, the Monte Carlo theater, is to be a $100 million venue, the cost matching the price tag for the entire Park project. The venue is to be a stylish fit for a variety of events and acts, including the types of short-run residencies at such similarly sized venues as the Colosseum in Caesars Palace, Axis at Planet Hollywood, the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel and (in the case of Bruno Mars) the Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

Note that there is no MGM Resorts venue in the 2,000- to 5,000-seating range in that collection. Until now.

“Our AEG partnership has been about not losing our position as the dominant entertainment company in Las Vegas. It’s really our brand, it’s who and what we are, but as we looked across the portfolio, we didn’t have a venue like this,” Hornbuckle said.

“We clearly saw what happened with the Colosseum at Caesars, we saw the activity was productive. We’ve seen, even, to a lesser degree, what’s going on at Axis at Planet Hollywood, which has been somewhat productive. We felt we deserve and belong in the midst of all of that from a competitive perspective, and we designed it in such a way that it is versatile.”

More to know about this theater and MGM Resorts’ strategy from the chat with Hornbuckle:

Monte Carlo, as a brand, is all but gone:

Hornbuckle stopped just short of confirming the long-held expectation that Monte Carlo is due an overdue renovation that wipes out the resort’s name in favor of something more contemporary. The hotel opened in 1996 and is due for a once-over even absent the development of the arena, theater and the Park on or near its property.

Though work has already started throughout the hotel and casino, the refurbishing begins in earnest with the announcement of the theater and is to be completed no later than spring 2017.

“This takes Monte Carlo up a notch. The thing about Monte Carlo is it’s in the heart of the Strip, it’s now had close to $10 billion in investments surrounding it — and if you count the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, more than that (about $14 billion) — between CityCenter and all the work we’ve done with the Park and the arena, it’s do for a refresh,” Hornbuckle said.

“A simple refresh is not what we have in mind. This will be a marquee piece of the new Monte Carlo. What it becomes over time is yet to be determined, but it’s a key piece to its future.”

And when asked if “Monte Carlo,” as a name, would survive the process, Hornbuckle said, “Probably not. But it’s still under debate, under discussion.”

MGM Resorts will need to ramp up its programming in a big way after all of its venues are completed:

Even if the company’s magic-wand wants are met and it lands an NHL team for Las Vegas Arena, it would still need substantial events to fill all of its needs across its spectrum of venues: MGM Grand Garden Arena, Mandalay Bay Events Center, MGM Resorts Village and MGM Resorts Festival Grounds.

“Hockey is critical for us because hockey occupies 44 dates a year. But can the community at MGM Resorts go out and find 100 more events? That’s what we’re talking about if we want to keep the current pace at MGM Grand Garden Arena as well as Mandalay Bay Events Center and ultimately fill the expectations of the arena,” Hornbuckle said.

“Can we attract and get 100 more events? I’ll tell you this: We’re on our way. We have a huge number of contacts in our company Rolodex, and we are in discussions with a lot of people. … But time will tell if it is sustainable.”

MGM Resorts can package acts at the theater with similarly designed venues at under-development resorts at MGM National Harbor in Maryland and also MGM Cotai in Macau:

The architectural and design company Sceno Plus, based in Montreal, is working on all of those venues and designed the Colosseum.

“Depending on who the artist is, they can do a dozen dates here, half a dozen dates in Maryland and potentially a couple dates in Cotai, so we have all that in mind when we’re building it,” Hornbuckle said. “So we think the whole story fits in strategically. We think it’s pretty compelling, and it puts us in a space we weren’t in before.”

What type of acts would not be staged at the new theater?

Cirque productions, for starters. “We’ve got that covered,” Hornbuckle says with a laugh, not needing to mention the eight Cirque shows on the Strip, seven of which are staged in MGM Resorts hotels. But he added, “Taylor Swift is out right now on tour, and it’s a massive tour. It’s got 19 trucks or something like that. Unless she wants to unplug, it cannot accommodate that type of tour, but that’s what the arena is for.”

However …:

As Hornbuckle adds, “The beauty of our relationships now, with all the amenities we have, you can potentially take a great arena act, book them in an arena environment, and on the second night, or even the first night, book them in a far more intimate environment and bring them into the theater.”

The new theater will offer flexible seating on its lower level:

“In the lower third of the theater, it does work like an arena with the seats pushed back, you can do GA, you can do VIP booths, you can do tables, you can do a vast array of opportunities, “ Hornbuckle said. “You can create a VIP section of substance that we think is unique and compelling for a traditional theater. Then it presents itself so the farthest seat away from the stage, I think, is about 180 feet. There’s no bad seat, and it’s a true theater pitch in the context of how you engage with the stage.”

Though not mentioned specifically by Hornbuckle, the theater can easily host an awards show such as the ESPYs, which aired from Microsoft Theater on Wednesday night. Years ago, that show was staged at MGM Grand Garden Arena, but the Monte Carlo theater gives the company yet another awards show-worthy venue.

There is to be no midsize venue to replace the 1,200-seat space that opened as Lance Burton Theater in 1996:

Similar to how the construction of the Colosseum forever wiped out the Circus Maximus showroom, Monte Carlo theater (to be renamed as the hotel’s name itself is dealt with) is taking out the original Burton theater, home to Blue Man Group, now moving to Luxor. In this shuffle, the Jabbawockeez are headed to Beacher’s Madhouse at MGM Grand. Both moves are expected to be finished in October.

“We’ve got some ideas for something completely unique and different, longer-term, for Monte Carlo and live music,” Hornbuckle said. “But it is much smaller and more intimate. The notion of another 1,000-seat theater at Monte Carlo is not on the horizon.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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