Now that I’ve seen the inside, I’ve got something to say about Vdara and City Center.
The guy in charge of it all says that it can’t be explained, only experienced, but I’m going to give it a shot since it’s sort of my job to explain these kinds of things.
To set the stage, I came in from the Bellagio, parking in the self-park garage. It’s not a very far walk at all–you just head through the ground floor of the Spa Tower, past Sensi, and onto a covered walkway that looks kind of Jetsons-ish.
The porte cochere is on the other side of the building, but we’ll start there. You’ve got a great view of Nancy Rubins’ sculpture “Big Edge” (the one with all of the canoes) that is very much like something you’d see in Manhattan–definitely “artier” than the usual hotel-front attractions in Las Vegas. In fact, it is something you’d see in Manhattan, if you visit the Lincoln Center.
Since the hotel wasn’t open yet, there wasn’t any traffic, but I think that the traffic flow will be as an integral part of the street scene in front of Vdara as the art. One thing that sets City Center–or at least this part of it–apart from other resorts on the Strip is that because of the density, you’re never going to be too far away from the street when you’re in the public spaces. The third-floor pool, for example, faces a parking structure on the west. It’s going to have a different sort of vibe than the usual “desert oasis” feel of most Las Vegas pools, where either the hotel towers themselves or extensive setbacks remove visitors from traffic. It will feel more like part of a cityscape than an isolated vacation paradise. Is this a good thing? I think tastes will vary. I can see some people being put off by the energy and noise, but I can see others who go nuts when they’re surrounded by silence loving it.
Is this deliberate? I don’t know. It’s clear that the designers put a great deal of thought into how to handle traffic flows, so they can’t have been ignorant of the fact that Bar Vdara’s outside area will be surrounded by cars. It sounds ridiculous to call traffic noise an amenity, but I think it will be something that distinguishes this hotel from others, on a subconscious level at least.
I got to tour two suites (rooms 27.001 and 27.003, if you’re curious), and they both had a sleek, sophisticated look with some reassuring touches of color. I’ve stayed in a few minimalist hotels, and these were not at all minimalist, though I’d definitely say they are not fussy. There were lots of whites and browns with splashes of green, red, and blue where appropriate, with big windows and no discernible outside noise, though we had a great view of the Cosmopolitan construction.
Overall, there’s certainly something that’s nearly intangible that makes this hotel feel different from other Las Vegas resorts. Part of it will probably be the traffic. I think that they’ve got a shot at attracting a different clientele here: but for the size, this hotel wouldn’t look out of place in San Francisco or Manhattan. I can see it being the centerpiece of a non-gaming vacation that would make those that traditionally go for Las Vegas happy.
But wait! you might protest. What does Las Vegas want with people who don’t gamble? Isn’t the misguided attempt to pursue free-spending leisure travelers responsible for $200+ room rates and decreased comping?
To that I’d respond that Las Vegas shouldn’t be too choosy about who comes to vacation here. There are a lot of people who like to gamble, but there are also many who don’t, and giving them a reason to visit Las Vegas has always been wise. It’s funny that some people stamp their feet and demand “diversification,” but others complain when an operator does something beside run a slot barn. Like Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Venetian, and Wynncore, Vdara is at least a step in the direction of diversifying the tourist sector of the economy. If all we depended on was serious gamblers, or leisure travelers, or convention-goers, we’d be in much worse shape than we are now. There are still plenty of places on the Strip for those who want the traditional hotel/casino; something different can’t hurt and will likely help.
I think that, within Las Vegas, the best analog for Vdara is the THEhotel at Mandalay Bay: it’s the same idea (luxury non-gaming hotel), but extrapolated to the next level and physically removed from the main hotel/casino. From my experience today, you’d have no trouble checking in at Vdara and spending a great deal of time at Bellagio, but the hotel doesn’t feel at all like an extension of Bellagio. I don’t know how it will interact with Aria since I haven’t seen that yet, but I imagine that it will be somewhat similar.
As far as the opening goes, there was plenty of gratitude to go around for the various partners, designers, and builders, and a bold promise from Jim Murren that 2010 would be better than 2009 and 2011 would be better than 2010. He said that people in the future will mark this as the turning point, the moment when Las Vegas started to come out of “the Great Recession.”
Is he right? Well, it’s not really a hypothesis that’s falsifiable, so he’ll never be proven right or wrong. If City Center is a “success” (a vague term that hasn’t been defined by anyone to my satisfaction) and Las Vegas recovers economically in the next 2-5 years, it will be tempting to say that this was the turning point. If the overall economic gloom worsens, though, particularly in the aftermath of sudden, unexpected events (war, terrorism, or natural disaster) one could say that, “City Center would have been the turning point if not for…” On the other hand, if visitation and gaming revenues climb, someone could argue that they would have done so anyway.
Turning City Center into a savior or a test case for one’s personal political or economic pet peeves does the project a disservice. As I alluded to yesterday on 2 Way Hard 3, maybe we shouldn’t be asking any more of this development than that it be a well-designed hotel/casino/resort. On that level, it certainly succeeds.
I’ve got a lot more to write about this, so don’t be surprised if I spin this into a detailed newspaper or magazine piece. I’ve also got some pictures that may be showing up somewhere.
In sum, I have seen one part of City Center and I have hopefully found some words to begin to explain it.