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December 14, 2018

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The Park delivers as the Strip’s new playground

Bliss Dance Illumination Ceremony

Steve Marcus

The Bliss Dance sculpture is officially illuminated Monday, April 4, 2016, at The Park. Deja Solis, the model for the sculpture, is at center. 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 »

Bliss Dance Illumination Ceremony

The Bliss Dance sculpture by artist Marco Cochrane is officially illuminated Monday, April 4, 2016, at 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. Launch slideshow »

T-Mobile Arena Grand Opening Night

Opening night of T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday, April 6, 2016, on the Las Vegas Strip. Launch slideshow »

Having put T-Mobile Arena and The Park to the test over the weekend, I can first say the place is gorgeous and furnished to handle any arena-styled event.

A stunner, I know.

As I noted in advance coverage, it is important to plan for parking at the facility, and I’d get there an hour ahead of the opening of doors and hang at The Park until the venue allows ticket holders inside.

As I found Friday night, the entertainment options at Toshiba Square and The Park are great for those nights when doors are late to open, such as when the announced 8 p.m. opening for Guns N’ Roses was pushed to 8:45.

Fans became restless, shouting, “Open the doors!” But many moved back to The Park and hung at the bars and restaurants until T-Mobile opened for the show, which invariably started about midnight, because, hey, this is Guns N’ Roses.

But the advance concerns over parking at or near T-Mobile seem overblown. The Monte Carlo garage, which also serves as the employee-parking garage at Aria, and the facility at New York-New York can handle a mass of vehicles parking near the arena.

Compare the pay-to-park procedures to parking at McCarran International Airport or the Fremont Street Experience garage. In particular, the lighting system inside Monte Carlo, with the green LED bulbs indicating open spots, works and is really helpful.

The general rule for parking: The later you arrive, the more likely you’ll want to park farther from the venue, at MGM Grand or Excalibur, or even across the Strip at Paris Las Vegas-Bally’s.

Taking the Monorail to those hotels can work, but my own conversations with locals who hit The Park and T-Mobile in the days after opening were to use Uber and Lyft for transportation.

Aside from locals’ business, The Park will benefit from a lot of incidental pedestrian business from those walking on the Strip toward, and from, Bellagio and New York-New York. It feels like the type of place to simply chill and grab a bite, and those restaurants (Beerhaus, California Pizza Kitchen, Shake Shack, Sake Rock and Bruxie) are all easy access and offer outdoor seating.

With its trees and water effect and multiple means of recreation, The Park feels like a mix of Fremont East (and especially the layout at the nearby Gold Spike), Fremont Street Experience (for those open stages) and Springs Preserve, all set between two massive Strip resorts.

In a development that had to be envisioned when the park renderings were developed, one night last week two young couples played a game of Jenga for what had to be 45 minutes at Beerhaus. Most of the visitors who were in the place were drinking craft beer and eating from the restaurant’s menu of sausages, burgers and sandwiches (featuring hormone-free meat and locally sourced produce). These revelers were so involved in this Jenga competition, it seemed that they had wagered on the outcome.

One guy in a green golf shirt, white shorts and pink-hued face (a certain indication of beer quaffing) became the unofficial arbiter of the rules of this game. “No leaning on the table!” he shouted in an authoritative sort of way. “Step away from the puzzle!”

When that tower finally toppled, the place let out a roar. Sort of like the shouting you usually hear from a hot craps table as the city continues to promote excitement away from the casino floor.

But rain is a problem at The Park, obviously, and Saturday the dancers, musicians and painters were chased inside New York-New York and set up at the entrance.

As I walked out to The Park from inside the hotel, I happened upon a woman draped in red silk, spinning slowly just in front of the doors. Off to the side, an artist who had begun the afternoon painting a portrait across from CPK had hustled inside, too.

It was a mini-arts festival just feet from the sports book.

At Toshiba Square, the two stages have hosted local bands fronted by Las Vegas stalwarts Mike Johnson and David Perrico. The crowd exiting The Killers/Wayne Newton show Wednesday night spilled into Johnson’s A-List band ripping through “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Barracuda.” I was asked about Johnson’s band by one of the dignitaries who had just seen The Killers’ show.

“They play the Lounge at Excalibur,” I told this person as singer Christine LaFond, a largely unknown but wildly talented artist, took on the Heart classic.

“You’re kidding,” was the response.

Nope. Fridays and Saturdays, folks, at 10:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., the late start so the players who are in Strip shows can make it over. This is the type of lineup that sets Las Vegas apart, and The Park puts these musicians in front of a high concentration of visitors. Very groovy.

Elsewhere, talent and artistry are abundant at The Park. Members of the Las Vegas violinist outfit Phat Strad play the open stage near the water wall leading to The Park from the Strip. A jazz duo of guitarist Rene Toledo and local sax man Rob Stone entertained the afternoon of the Nicki Minaj-Ariana Grande show at T-Mobile.

While the biggest names play that arena, tourists are treated to some of the city’s top performance artists and musicians. I keep remembering the philosophy of MGM Resorts Chairman and CEO Jim Murren, who upon the announcement of The Park was insistent that those who visited would not run up against the costumed buskers (he has a particular problem with the SpongeBob character) who hang in front of Bellagio and Hard Rock Cafe on the Strip.

Those characters serve a purpose, I guess, posing for photographs for the folks who visit from across the country. But for some thoughtful programming that showcases top Las Vegas artists — whether it’s inside the big building or walking toward that venue — The Park has it.

And at the end of the year, Park Theater at the renovated Monte Carlo will be open. By then, we’ll be familiar with that entertainment district — and when “meet me at Bliss Dance” will make perfect sense.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow Kats on Instagram at Instagram.com/JohnnyKats1.

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