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September 17, 2019

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Upon further review: MGM Resorts’ Plan B was right with T-Mobile Arena, Monte Carlo Theater

The Park Grand Opening

Steve Marcus

MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO Jim Murren and Gov. Brian Sandoval arrive Monday, April 4, 2016, for the grand opening of The Park. The new pocket park, lined with restaurants and seating for outdoor dining, runs from the Las Vegas Strip to the new T-Mobile Arena.

The Park Grand Opening

A dancer performs during the grand opening of The Park Monday, April 4, 2016. The new pocket park, lined with restaurants and seating for outdoor dining, runs from the Las Vegas Strip to the new T-Mobile Arena. Launch slideshow »

In resort development, as in life, it is important to listen and … what else?

Think it through.

The position of T-Mobile Arena, the development of The Park and the construction of the theater at Monte Carlo remind of those qualities. There was a time when MGM Resorts was eyeing Mandalay Bay as the site for what is now T-Mobile Arena.

That was until renowned Las Vegas resort official Tony Marnell suggested the current location mid-Strip. Marnell is to be taken seriously, as he founded Marnell Companies, and among his projects over the decades have been the Mirage, Treasure Island, Bellagio, Wynn and Encore Las Vegas, the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace and the Rio.

Listening to that advice, Mandalay Bay proceeded with its $70 million, 900,000-square-foot convention center expansion, which opened in August.

“Tony told us, ‘You’ve got a location right in the heart of Las Vegas. Great vehicular egress, parking garages to the north and to the south,” MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO Jim Murren said today at the ribbon-cutting ceremony at The Park. “You’ve got tens of thousands of rooms for people who visit us to walk into the arena.”

The build-out of Monte Carlo Theater was another take-a-step-back for the company. Originally, Murren and his board of directors had reviewed plans to cut down the capacity of Mandalay Bay Events Center, more than halving that venue’s 13,000-seat capacity.

The motivation was two existing theaters on the Strip owned by Caesars Entertainment: the Colosseum at Caesars and Axis at Planet Hollywood.

“We don’t have an arena in our inventory that speaks to resident shows,” Murren said. “Caesars has done great with the Colosseum, and Planet Hollywood has done well with Axis, and this is something we’ve been wrestling with for years.

“We looked at cutting down Mandalay Bay and had plans to make it a 5,000-6,000 seat theater, but the challenge was it was not designed that way, and we’d always know it was not intended to be a theater.

“It was an after-market, retro-fit design. Plus, we use it a lot for conventions.”

The concept of moving a theater to the entrance of The Park was that of MGM Resorts President Bill Hornbuckle, who used L.A. Live with its Staples Center and Microsoft Theater juxtaposition as something of a blueprint for the T-Mobile Arena/Monte Carlo Theater/The Park design.

“Bill gets credit for that,” Murren said. “It’s a knock-off of L.A. Live.”

The long-anticipated rebranding and renaming of Monte Carlo will be announced “in a few months,” Murren said (I have heard buzz that the working title is The Park at MGM Grand, or something similar, to match The Park promenade). In that rollout will be the acts that will be in residency at the new theater.

“These are A-plus-plus acts,” Murren said nodding when I asked if the new venue will reflect the headliner rotation at the Colosseum and Axis. “We’ll have multiple headliners in there for residency periods.”

The entertainment opportunities at The Park have created work for Las Vegas entertainers. Violinists of the Las Vegas company Phat Strad performed just behind the ribbon-cutting ceremony, and such well-known acts as David Perrico with his Pop Strings lineup and Michael Johnson and The A List are performing at the Park or Toshiba Plaza, with its three stages at the end of the 8-acre walking attraction leading into T-Mobile.

Charged with signing up those acts is Megan Belk, also a familiar figure in Las Vegas entertainment circles as a longtime production manager and performer who is the widow of the great percussionist and music director Jim Belk.

As Murren wound up his comments, I pointed at the collection of four violinists playing in the distance. “Violinists playing in the shade on the Las Vegas Strip,” Murren said. “Can you beat that?”

Not today. Not by a long shot.

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