Friday, Dec. 11, 2009 | 3 a.m.
Its very name has been a part of our everyday vocabulary for a couple of years now, a trademark that evolved into a metaphor for an anxious community’s hopes and dreams. Still, few locals were ready for the spectacle unveiled in the opening of CityCenter this past week.
Like you, I’ve driven past it countless times during the lengthy construction. Just as you have, I’ve pointed out the highlights of its skyline to visitors and newcomers — sometimes inaccurately, I now know. I’ve seen its girders shimmering in the daylight heat of July and watched it sleep with the lights on in February.
The obstructions and closures of longtime shortcuts messed with my last-minute commutes all too often. But traffic delays also afforded time to peruse and to try to imagine what the end result would really be like.
There have been more headlines, videos and blogs than I can count, all spreading tales of grandeur, in context with the economy into which it has been born.
In summary, then, there should have been few surprises left by now. But even a media guy was unprepared for the effect of this new development.
It didn’t take long to wake up.
The moment of my own epiphany occurred upon arrival at the first of the past week’s openings, which took place at Vdara, the stunning all-suite hotel and spa. One need only briefly take in the scene from the front of Vdara to see what has transpired. Fortunately, valets remain patient during this process.
When you come to, you’re in the midst of a futuristic skyline and small city that obscure more familiar buildings, creating a pleasant disorientation. Things are so different that one struggles to remember where he or she is, and what on earth this location ever used to be.
Inside Vdara, and a couple of nights later at the awe-inspiring Mandarin Oriental, there are clear examples that CityCenter has delivered on the promises. My editors do not like clichés, and they may want to strike this one, but it all takes Las Vegas to another level altogether. I don’t know how else to put it.
There are likely some challenging times awaiting our economy, its key industry and our community in the first quarter of the new year. But CityCenter is here now, and it meets all the buildup it has been given.
And it’s done one other thing we didn’t really anticipate when construction began in 2006. It has brought us together, rivals and competitors alike, in supporting the success of 76 acres straddling Harmon Avenue, a street previously known mostly for its potholes.
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New things always seem to get the attention — permission to blame the media is granted — but it’s hard to imagine the first fortnight in December without the National Finals Rodeo produced by Las Vegas Events annually at the Thomas & Mack Center.
I’m not sure it’s politically correct to praise the traditional American rodeo, but this time of year, we should indeed acknowledge the effect of the NFR, which was brought to Las Vegas by Benny Binion and Herb McDonald in 1985.
Naturally, the modern NFR doesn’t bear much of a resemblance to the rodeos many of us remember as kids. Except for the bulls, steers and horses, and a floor comprised of a composite of, um, an eclectic mix of ingredients, this rodeo is actually more like a well-choreographed production show than anything else.
The practiced synchronization of team roping demands the rehearsal hours that go into the tight harmonies in “Jersey Boys.” The sheer strength of a steer wrestler is right there with any of “Mystere’s” stars. The clowns’ grace could land them dance gigs in one of Cher’s shows.
If you like crazy, the risks taken by a bull rider match up with any of Cirque du Soleil’s aerial dangers. The saddle bronc adventurers are a ramped-up “Tournament of Kings.”
The laser light show is as psychedelic as “Love.” The score brings it all together, with many first-timers surprised to hear rap, metal and hip-hop incorporated into a cowboy’s world. They’re all tough men and women, but the drama of the week’s high-stakes competition rivals the dramatic conclusion of “Phantom.” And, yeah, there are a few tears shed when it’s all over.
National Finals Rodeo continues to draw large crowds during what would otherwise be a slow season. As they say at the rodeo, here’s a tip of the hat to the people behind it.
Bruce Spotleson is group publisher of In Business Las Vegas.