Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Most people probably think of the Las Vegas Festival Grounds, the 35-acre site at the northern tip of the Strip, as the big empty lot where the first and only edition of Rock in Rio USA was held in May 2015.
It’s still big, but it’s not empty. On Saturday it hosted the Martha Stewart Wine & Food Experience presented by USA Today and MGM Resorts International, a festival featuring gourmet bites from dozens of local restaurants on and off the Las Vegas Strip, crafting and cooking demonstrations and even a “master class” starring Stewart herself.
The food event and Saturday’s warm weather brought thousands to the site, and it only took a couple of those acres to make it all happen — a good thing, because the Las Vegas Festival Grounds was already setting up for this week’s event.
“We created a very unique footprint in the site to create this Martha Stewart Experience, a culinary event that allows us to engage not only MGM Resorts restaurants but others who wanted to participate, and it provides an opportunity to see how we can use the assets normally tied to a big festival experience in a smaller space,” said Daren Libonati, vice president and general manager of festivals and outdoor venues for MGM Resorts International, which operates the venue. “And then you can come back [this week] for the P1440 volleyball event for sports enthusiasts, a health and fitness event where you’ll see the same kind of lifestyle experience. The difference is rather than a beer garden, you’ll have a yoga garden.”
The FIVB Las Vegas Open presented by P1440 is a five-day event that kicks off today, transforming the Festival Grounds into a sand-covered beach volleyball venue hosting players from around the world looking to earn Olympic ranking points toward qualifying for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. Live entertainment from local bands and DJs, a fitness and training village, healthy cooking demonstrations and kids exercise areas round out the event, part of a series of touring events created by volleyball legend and three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings.
There’s more: October 27-28 will bring Las Vegas 3on3 weekend back to the Strip, a partnership between MGM and the Spokane Hoopfest which has been held at Toshiba Plaza in front of T-Mobile Arena each of the last two years. This year’s recreational basketball tournament will introduce the Findlay Toyota Prep King & Queen of the Court High School Bracket, in which local and out-of-state high school teams are invited to participate. Las Vegas 3on3 has grown into the bigger venue, Libonati said, and MGM is hoping that development will continue.
Three big events in one month might make it seem as if the Festival Grounds have suddenly come to life, but the truth is other private and corporate events have been utilizing the venue recently. And since MGM’s south Strip outdoor venue, the Las Vegas Village across from Mandalay Bay and Luxor, has been defunct since the October 1 shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, the company has been organizing more public events for the Festival Grounds. Last month brought the iHeartRadio music festival’s daytime stage to the site.
“It was always active in the spirit of private events that you probably didn’t know about, but its intent always has been to be a very active site for different experiences,” Libonati said. “Now that the [Las Vegas] Convention Center space is going to be changing so dramatically, we are anticipating an even greater demand at this site for years to come.”
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is expanding its convention center on Paradise Road all the way west to the Strip with the Convention Center District Project, which will use the Strip space formerly occupied by the Riviera. The project’s phase two expansion will add 1.4 million square feet including 600,000 square feet of new exhibit space slated for completion in time for the massive annual CES convention in early 2021.
The LVCVA project combined with the construction of the new Resorts World Las Vegas and The Drew is expected to generate plenty of new traffic on the north Strip, and Libonati said MGM is planning to capitalize on that energy thanks to the flexibility of the Festival Grounds site.
“Once you’re living somewhere and you start to learn about and get a better feel for the space, and when you can understand the difference between wanting to do something and having to do something, it opens your eyes,” he said. “We’re going to continue to push very hard working on creating the greatest event experiences we can provide for the public. The more we live on that site, the more we love it.”