Published Monday, April 4, 2016 | 12:25 p.m.
Updated Monday, April 4, 2016 | 6:30 p.m.
MGM Resorts International on Monday celebrated the opening of its Park dining and entertainment district, which officials praised for bringing a new kind of public space to the bustle of the Las Vegas Strip.
CEO Jim Murren, Gov. Brian Sandoval and others kicked off the Park’s debut with a news conference and ribbon cutting this morning in advance of the $100 million development’s opening to the public later Monday afternoon.
The Park features a series of restaurants alongside a lengthy stretch of landscaped open space between New York-New York and Monte Carlo, leading customers from the sidewalk of Las Vegas Boulevard back to the new 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena, which opens Wednesday.
With no new gambling space and an emphasis on the outdoor environment, the Park continues a trend on the Strip away from traditional casino development and toward nongaming attractions. Caesars Entertainment’s Linq promenade, the accompanying High Roller observation wheel and the Grand Bazaar Shops in front of Bally’s have taken similar approaches.
Murren cast the Park as an area that gives Las Vegas the kind of open public gathering place found in other “great cities.”
“One common theme I’ve often noticed in my travels is that all those great cities have gathering places, piazzas, parks, plazas,” Murren said at the news conference. “I’ve long thought, in my 18 years here, that Las Vegas could use such a place. We wanted to deliver on a place that could be that gathering place.”
Murren also stressed how the landscaping was meant to pay respect to the “indigenous beauty” of Southern Nevada’s environment and “show the people of the world how beautiful our desert can be.”
Another purpose of the Park, Murren said, is to introduce more public art to the Strip. And a key component of that is Bliss Dance, a 40-foot tall sculpture of a dancing woman located at the back of the Park toward the arena. The sculpture made its debut at Burning Man in Northern Nevada several years ago and was later located at Treasure Island in San Francisco.
The sculpture, which will be lit at night, was highlighted by both Murren and Sandoval in their comments Monday. But it’s not the only artistic feature at the district: The space is punctuated by 16 tall shade structures that will also light up in the evening, and visitors coming from the boulevard can walk through two walls of running water on their way into the Park.
Officials today also sought to dispel any possible notion that a park with splashy water fixtures and more than 200 fully grown trees was an irresponsible thing to develop in the middle of a drought-stricken desert. Murren and Clark County Commissioner Mary Beth Scow both mentioned the importance of the Park’s sustainability efforts, which were detailed even more by John Entsminger, the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
“There’s a myth that economic vitality and environmental stewardship are mutually exclusive. But that’s exactly what it is: a myth,” Entsminger said.
Entsminger fired off a list of numbers that he aimed to use as proof of water-consciousness within the resort industry. He said the Strip and the other resorts in Nevada together use less than 1 percent of all water consumed in the state each year, and he offered MGM Resorts as a particular leader for its approach to water use. Through efforts such as removing turf, reusing linens and installing low-flow water fixtures, the company has saved upwards of 800 million gallons of water in just the last five years, according to Entsminger.
Entsminger also sought to show how that attitude would translate to the Park, where he said MGM Resorts is saving water by using drip irrigation, putting tanks underneath water features to capture spill and other moves. He even presented Murren with a “water hero award” from the Water Conservation Coalition, a partnership between the water authority and the local business community.
Trees and art aside, another big component of the Park is its restaurant lineup: Bruxie, a waffle restaurant; Sake Rok, a Japanese restaurant; California Pizza Kitchen and Beerhaus.
Still, the other aspects won some of the highest praise from officials such as the governor.
“This is something that has been sorely lacking on the Strip, to be able to have open space and places where people can reflect and look at public art and look at the local landscape,” Sandoval said in an interview. “When people come and visit here, and they’re walking to the arena and go through this experience — I haven’t been to as many places as a lot of other people, but I’ve never seen anything like it. So it’s something that’s unique and iconic for Las Vegas — again.”
Though the public was granted access to the Park’s restaurants and open space today, the area remains somewhat of a work in progress as MGM Resorts continues to work on building a new 5,000-seat theater at Monte Carlo. Situated right alongside the Park development, the theater is set to open later this year.
It’s not the only change coming to the Monte Carlo, either: Murren has previously indicated that the resort was due to get a major revamp and possible name change. All of that appears to still be on the table.
“We’re gonna celebrate tonight and then wake up tomorrow,” Murren said in an interview. “The idea is, get the Park open, get the arena open, have a few concerts, get all this cleaned up, and then we’re working very hard on the internal planning of this, because we want to give you a ‘wow’ moment.”
Another change from MGM Resorts that customers will soon experience is the beginning of paid parking on the Strip. The company has said that, while events are happening at the arena, it will charge for “reserved event parking” at some of the closest garages. It’ll cost $10 in advance and $20 on the day of the event, and registered hotel guests will still be able to use the garages for free.
That change marks a departure from the abundant free parking long considered a staple of the Strip, and it precedes MGM Resorts’ plan to start charging for parking across its Strip resorts.
The company is instituting the new policy as it spends $90 million on new and improved parking facilities, but that hasn’t stopped some heated backlash online. A Facebook group opposed to the change has more than 1,900 members and a change.org petition has more than 1,700 supporters.
However strongly some locals feel about the issue, the governor, for one, does not seem to share their outrage.
“It’s obviously a business decision that was made by MGM. I have great respect for Jim Murren and MGM, and I’m sure it wasn’t easy for him, but it’s something that had to be done,” Sandoval told the Sun today.