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MGM Mirage execs gather to mark opening of CityCenter

Aria Opening

Tiffany Brown

The water feature outside Aria makes a grand display during the opening ceremony for Aria at CityCenter in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009.

Updated Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009 | 12:04 a.m.

CityCenter's Aria Makes Debut

CityCenter's Aria makes it long awaited debut to the public.

Aria Opening

CityCenter President and CEO, Bobby Baldwin, bottom center, speaks during the opening of Aria at CityCenter in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009. Launch slideshow »

CityCenter grand opening

Guests enter the Aria hotel-casino for the first time Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Aria opens its doors to the public

CityCenter's Aria has opened its doors to the public. Fireworks exploded over the centerpiece of the $8.5 billion CityCenter project, and people eagerly awaited to be the first inside Aria, which is a partnership between MGM Mirage and Dubai World.

Aria Preview

Employees ready the bar at the Skybox Bar at Aria, the centerpiece of the $8.5 billion CityCenter project, Monday, December 14, 2009. Launch slideshow »

CityCenter WET Tour

A water feature named Launch slideshow »

Elvis Preview

Elvis Presley giant PEZ dispensers are displayed at the official Viva ELVIS store at Aria Tuesday, December 15, 2009. Preview performances for the new show by Cirque du Soleil will begin Friday, December 18. Aria, the centerpiece of the $8.5 billion project, will open after a fireworks display Wednesday night. The development is a partnership between MGM Mirage and Dubai World.  . Launch slideshow »

CityCenter Dining Experience

CityCenter offers excellent dining experiences.

The countdown is over.

For months, MGM Mirage, the managing partner of the $8.5 billion CityCenter, has tantalized the public with a reminder of how many days it would be before Aria, the centerpiece of the development, would be “revealed to the world.”

Today, the wait wound down to the final 24 hours, 3½ years after the implosion of the Boardwalk hotel that once occupied a portion of the Strip frontage and five years after planning began.

Aria was busy Tuesday with last-minute touch-up work throughout the building while journalists and VIPs took guided tours showcasing room technology, CityCenter’s public art and water features and its signature entertainment offering, Cirque du Soleil’s “Viva Elvis.”

On Wednesday, activity was even more brisk and the company was graced with a warm, sunny day for the final push before the opening.

In a midday opening ceremony, CityCenter executives CEO Jim Murren and President Bobby Baldwin applauded the efforts of the 12,000 CityCenter employees who will be working at the development and thanked representatives of the various development teams that had representatives in attendance.

Midway through the presentation, the ceremony was stopped for a photo opportunity as the principal architects of the buildings were gathered on stage – a rare moment that the creative brainpower of Gensler, the executive architect of the project, Pelli Clarke Pelli’s Cesar Pelli (Aria), RV Architecture (Vdara), Kohn Pederson Fox Associates (Mandarin Oriental), Helmut Jahn (Veer), Foster + Partners (Harmon), Rockwell Group and Daniel Libeskind (Crystals) were assembled at one place at the same time.

Executives also recognized Mark Fuller, chief excellence officer of WET Design, which created the five water entertainment features at CityCenter, and Priscilla Presley, former wife of Elvis Presley and a collaborator with Cirque du Soleil for Aria’s primary entertainment offering.

And they thanked Clark County and state government leaders for their support. Among those attending the event were state Sens. Randolph Townsend, Bob Coffin and Michael Schneider, Assemblywoman Debbie Smith and former Gov. Kenny Guinn.

S. Richard Fedrizzi, founding chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council, applauded MGM Mirage’s sustainability efforts, calling the CityCenter project “transforming” and adding that he hopes that it would inspire others to consider building “green.”

Murren said he hoped the architecture, art and design of the development would “inspire people to expand their minds.”

But at the core of CityCenter, it’s still a casino property.

In an interview after the ceremony, Baldwin said CityCenter would have to generate $4.5 million of revenue a day for CityCenter to maintain annual cash flow of $500 million. He doesn’t expect to reach maximum productivity for 1½ to two years.

He said his experience as a professional poker player served him well because his ability to read people enabled him to bring together the 2,500 companies and their executives who contributed to the development of CityCenter.

“Everybody thinks a poker game is about cards, but it’s not, it’s about people,” Baldwin said. “To get all those people on the same sheet of music, that’s what you learn in a poker game. Everybody’s different. You have to deal with everybody differently and at the same time, make them a team.”

Baldwin said about 1,500 guests would stay at Aria Wednesday night with about 2,500 in the building by the weekend. By Dec. 27, the 4,004 rooms will be at capacity. He said building up to full occupancy was by design to enable employees to ramp up gradually.

Crystals, he said, is currently at about 40 percent of capacity with the retail center to be at 85 percent by summer.

At about 11 p.m. after fireworks lit the sky over the 67-acre site between Bellagio and Monte Carlo, the public was invited to see what MGM Mirage and its joint-venture partner, Infinity World Development Corp., a subsidiary of Dubai World, have been talking about.

Six of CityCenter’s buildings are LEED Gold certified and the entire complex is providing 12,000 jobs.

Before the doors of Aria even opened, however, protesters began passing out anti-smoking materials on public walkways on the CityCenter grounds.

Stephanie Steinberg of Colorado-based Smoke-Free Gaming led a group of about 12 people passing out stickers reading “No smoke in casinos!” and encouraged people to sign a petition at the organization’s Web site.

Steinberg has been critical of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Gold certification of CityCenter.

“The U.S. Green Building Council continues to deceive the public by allowing smoking in these so-called ‘green’ projects,” Steinberg said. “There is no justification for exposing the employees and the public to air that is highly contaminated by the carcinogens in secondhand smoke. There is absolutely nothing ‘green’ about the gray in secondhand smoke.”

CityCenter officials counter that Aria’s high-tech air displacement system removes cigarette and cigar smoke and other pollutants from the air in the casino.

Steinberg said CityCenter security offers attempted to escort the protesters off the property Wednesday afternoon, but after contacting Metro she determined her group was within its legal bounds to gather on the public right-of-way.

Despite her protest, Steinberg said she hopes Aria and CityCenter succeed and that she plans to gamble there next weekend.

“The ironic thing is that the money I win gambling finances my advocacy efforts,” she said.

After teasing the public with the phased opening of the largest private development in the world – the non-gaming Vdara hotel on Dec. 1, the Crystals retail and entertainment district on Dec. 3 and the debut of Las Vegas’ first Mandarin Oriental hotel franchise on Dec. 4 – Wednesday night was the big one.

When the 61-story, 4,004-room crystalline hotel designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli opened its doors at 11:41 p.m., the public got a chance to see what 300 credentialed news media representatives came to Las Vegas to write, photograph and blog about.

Aria’s hotel includes 568 suites with floor-to-ceiling windows and the most technologically advanced rooms ever built. Guests are greeted with curtains opening and lights going on with a menu of room preferences displayed on television screens. One button turns everything off – the lights, the TV and the music – and a privacy notification goes on.

Nightly room rates range from $149 to $799 with suites running $425 to $7,500.

The company has assembled a who’s who list of chefs and restaurateurs including Masayoshi Takayama, Shawn McClain, Michael Mina, Julian Serrano, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Sirio Maccioni, Jean-Philippe Maury and The Light Group.

“Viva Elvis” is a collaboration between Cirque du Soleil and Elvis Presley Enterprises and pays tribute to Presley’s music and life with dance, live music and Cirque’s signature special effects and acrobatics. The show is staged in a 1,840-seat theater.

The public will also see art on display, including an 84-foot silver cast of the Colorado River created by famed artist Maya Lin. Her “Silver River” sculpture – her first work displayed in Las Vegas – is mounted above the Aria check-in desk. Other works by Jenny Holzer, Tony Cragg and Antony Gormley are displayed throughout the building.

Aria also has a two-level, 80,000-square-foot spa with 62 treatment rooms and the city’s first co-ed spa balcony. It overlooks a 215,000-square-foot pool deck shielded with oversized palm, acacia, pine and bottle trees.

A three-level 300,000-square-foot meeting and convention center includes all the technological bells and whistles and Aria has 10 bars and lounges, including The Light Group’s Haze nightclub.

The building’s 150,000-square-foot casino will offer the state’s first server-based gaming slot floor.

But Wednesday's opening is somewhat foreboding for Las Vegas because the arrival of Aria signals the beginning of the public finally getting answers to some of the questions critics have asked since the nation’s economy cratered midway through CityCenter’s construction.

Analysts have debated whether Aria and CityCenter would grow the Las Vegas tourism market as the openings of new properties have historically since the arrival of The Mirage in 1989 or if the sudden influx of thousands of new hotel rooms would just reshuffle market share among existing properties.

Fresh in the minds of local residents is the closure of Binion’s 365-room hotel Monday and Tuesday’s shuttering of two hotel towers at the Sahara. Both cited weak demand for their decisions.

MGM Mirage officials have stated publicly that they believe Aria and CityCenter will grow the local tourism market by 5 percent over the next two years, but some analysts are skeptical, citing the recession as the variable that will change the pattern of growth following a new opening.

Some are also wary that there is no new resort development in the pipeline with Fontainebleau and Boyd Gaming’s Echelon stopped in mid-construction and a handful of other proposals canceled or indefinitely delayed.

The largest major construction projects in the city with the completion of CityCenter are McCarran International Airport’s Terminal 3 and the new Veterans Administration hospital in North Las Vegas.

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