Out With the Old in Las Vegas

It’s been a busy year on The Strip. Las Vegas’ meetings business began its long-awaited hot streak this year, with the corporate group market finally returning in force. 

So there’s a lot new going on in town, from new resorts to renovations to new restaurants and shows. What follows is a rundown of what’s happened in 2011 and what coming up in 2012. 

New to The Strip
The big news this year on The Strip was the opening (in December 2010, technically) of the Cosmopolitan, a uniquely vertical 2,995-room resort that built through the downturn. Located right next to MGM Resorts International’s City Center, the Cosmopolitan has a 100,000 square foot casino—complete with semi-enclosed casino cabanas—featuring floor-to-ceiling windows facing the world-famous Strip. 

It also has three distinct pool environments, Sahra Spa & Hammam, Marquee Nightclub & Dayclub, nine unique retail boutiques and breathtaking views of the Las Vegas Strip. A particularly good view is from the Boulevard pool, which hosted an Incentive Research Foundation party in April—it’s a wonderful location for group events, overlooking CityCenter. 

Rooms feature state-of-the-art technology control panels, plasma-screen televisions, entertainment system, WiFi, and oversized marble bathrooms with Japanese soaking tubs and rain showers.

The Cosmopolitan’s 150,000 square feet of meeting space, which can accommodate groups of 10 to 5,000, was designed with easy access between guest rooms and three-story meeting facilities, says Jennifer Herring, the director of group sales. “This is a huge advantage when looking at our hotel,” she notes. “Meeting planners are tired of hearing about the long walks to meeting space as well as being forced through a casino.  Our hotel’s verticality gives planners what they want.” 

It also has separate executive conference space designed to keep small groups apart from the “thousands of square feet of meeting space and thousands of people,” who might be filling the larger halls, Herring says. “We have the Curated Conference Experience, in which we help guests achieve the purpose of the meeting, as well as the Chef's Meal of the Day program allowing small groups [of 10-50] to have a custom-made meal created by the chef.”

Another new tower belongs to Caesars Palace, which will open the 668-room Octavius Tower, its sixth, in January 2012. The Octavius Tower is the final piece of an $860 million renovation that commenced in 2008 when the tower began construction. Aside from the Octavius Tower, the project also included the renovation of the Forum Tower completed in October 2008, the addition of 263,000 square feet of convention and meeting space completed in July 2009, three new luxury villas which opened in September 2009, and an expansion of the Garden of the Gods pool and garden in March 2010. 

The Octavius Tower’s 668 rooms include 60 suites and six luxury villas with terraces overlooking the pools. The rooms will have marble floors, dark wood furnishings, granite-topped desks, and brushed chrome fixtures. The bed linens are by Anichini. There will be 42-inch HDTVs, multiple-hub media outlets, and bedside iPod docking stations. A new application for iPad/iPod Touch devices will allow guests to directly communicate with room service, housekeeping, reservations, and front desk services. Marble-tiled bathrooms will feature oversized whirlpool bathtubs and enclosed glass showers with multiple showerheads. Bath amenities are by Gilchrest & Soames.

In mid-December, the M Resort Spa Casino will debut an additional 25,000 sf of meeting space in its M Pavillion, increasing the overall meeting and event space in the two-year-old luxury boutique hotel to 85,000 sf. Accessible from the 17,000-sf Milan ballroom, the pillarless space is suitable for concerts and galas of up to 2,300 people, and will have 40-foot ceilings. In May, the 390-room property, located about 10 miles off The Strip (though with great Strip views) added an in-house A/V team.

A New Linq
If it’s monumental, eventually it’ll come to Las Vegas, as fans of the Eiffel Tower (at the Paris Las Vegas) and Statue of Liberty (at New York-New York Hotel & Casino) can attest. Now, it’s the London Eye observation wheel’s turn. 

Caesars Entertainment is set to begin construction on the Linq, a $550 million, retail, dining, and entertainment destination. The 200,000 square foot project, facing Caesar’s Palace in the middle of The Strip, is slated to open in June 2013. Linq's focal point will be the Las Vegas High Roller, the world’s tallest observation wheel. It will have 28 transparent, spherical cabins that can accommodate 40 people, and in-cabin food and beverage service will be available. At 550 feet, the High Roller will be more than 100 feet taller than the London Eye. The cabins and possibly the whole entertainment street below it will be available for group events.

“The Linq is going to be the new address for fun at the center of the Las Vegas Strip,” says Gary Loveman, chairman, president, and CEO of Caesars Entertainment. “We are enhancing the allure of the resort experience in a coveted location, introducing an exciting new offering not only for guests occupying our own 24,000 Las Vegas hotel rooms, but also for all who live in and visit Las Vegas.” Linq’s tenants will include restaurants, bars and nightclubs, entertainment venues, and retail stores aimed at Gen X and Gen Y visitors, the company says. 

The Linq will have a direct pedestrian connection to the Flamingo Las Vegas on the south, and will completely transform the facade, entry, casino, and hotel reception areas of the Imperial Palace. It will also see O’Shea’s casino heavily incorporated. Also new to the Flamingo, home of Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville restaurant, is a new, 15,000 sf Margaritaville casino, which opened last month. 

Something Fresh
On the renovations front, the Bellagio is in the midst of a $70 million guest room redesign, incorporating new color palettes and furniture, a media hub, a new signature bed, and environmental upgrades.

The remodel began in June and all 2,568 rooms in the main tower should be complete by mid-December. The cashmere-covered Bellagio at Home mattress developed by Serta provides continuous support and temperature adjustment throughout the sleep cycle. The rooms’ centerpiece will be a dresser and connecting mirrored wardrobe that will hold a centralized media hub designed to accommodate a variety of digital devices. The rooms will have a 40-inch mounted flat-screen television, a bedside iHome docking station, and a laptop safe in one of the nightstands.

The renovations incorporate environmentally responsible elements including 60-percent more energy efficient LED lighting in corridors and guest rooms; organic carpeting primarily made from wool and furniture made from eucalyptus, both renewable resources; a new double towel bar in the bathroom for increased ability to dry and reuse towels; and a 180 percent improvement in air circulation.

The Wynn Las Vegas renovated all 2,716 guest rooms and suites between August 2010 and this past April. The $99 million makeover gave the six-year-old property a variety of advanced technologies, including remote-controlled lighting, drapery and room service messaging. The hard and soft furnishings were replaced and new color palettes added.

In May, the Bellagio opened its Cypress Pool, with 60 premium chaise lounge chairs and four daybeds that can be reserved. These are reserved for a full day, and have a host to assist guests with any needs, as well as amenities like infused water, chilled towels, Evian misters, non-alcoholic smoothie shots, and a selection of magazines. 

Also in Caesars, the forthcoming Nobu Hotel, restaurant, and Lounge is a lot more than just an outpost of Robert DeNiro’s famous sushi restaurant. It will be an entire guest tower—taking the place of the Centurion tower—renovated as an Asian-themed hotel within a hotel. After a multi-million dollar renovation expected to be finished by Summer 2012, the entire project design will showcase natural materials and Nobu’s signature Japanese elegance. The 11,200 sf Nobu restaurant and lounge, located in the heart of the Nobu Hotel, will offer several teppanyaki tables, a sushi bar, and private dining area, along with a large lounge and bar with 327 seats. 

Another hotel “reimagining” this year was at a Las Vegas classic, the Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower, which completed a $20 million renovation earlier this year. The property, which opened in 1996, has remodeled 909 of its 2,560 guest rooms. Known as “Stratosphere Select” rooms, they’ve been outfitted with flat-screen TVs, new linens and updated bathrooms.

The hotel also has updated several elevator lobbies, overhauled its main entrance—which now features a new VIP lounge, the main lobby, and a re-carpeted casino—and made over its onsite dining, updating the buffet, expanding Roxy's Diner, and overhauling the menu at the Top of the World restaurant.

The meeting spaces at two Caesars Entertainment properties, Bally’s Las Vegas and Harrah’s Las Vegas were remodeled earlier this year, receiving new floor and wall coverings, door finishes and lighting. Bally’s kept its original glass chandeliers and enhanced them with modern, complementary wall sconces. Bally’s has 175,000 sf of meeting and event space, as well as direct connection to Paris Las Vegas, and Harrah’s has 25,000 sf.

Finally, the Sahara faded into the sunset on May 16, when owner SBE Entertainment Group decided it no longer made sense to keep the historic, 1,720-room hotel open. While the company has not commented on its plans for the site, a sign at the Sahara says “Be back soon,” leading to speculation that a new casino resort may rise from its ashes. 

Ravella Renews Lake Las Vegas
320-acre Ravella is 17 miles away from The Strip in Lake Las Vegas. A non-gaming property, it has taken over the old Ritz-Carlton Las Vegas property that closed in the spring of 2010. It has been awarded the AAA four-diamond rating.

In keeping with its Lake Las Vegas setting, Ravella is smaller than many Las Vegas hotels, with 349 rooms and suites, and 39,000 sf of meeting space that can accommodate between 10 and 1,000, as well as outdoor meeting and teambuilding spaces. It has stunning sunsets and yoga and paddleboarding classes on the lake. “It’s more affordable and approachable than in the past,” says Marty Bertone, Ravella’s director of sales and marketing. “We are drawing clients who couldn’t afford to come here when it was a Ritz-Carlton.” 

Corporate and association business is the majority of the property’s business, says Bertone. Despite its resort amenities and outdoor activities, those corporate groups so far “are more meeting intensive” than traditional incentive groups. “They do not want the distractions of the Strip, but they want an enjoyable environment,” he says. “Typically they have a night or two free to enjoy what the strip has to offer,” but otherwise it’s down to business.
Eat, drink and be merry

Aside from the forthcoming Nobu, other new additions to Caesars Palace include Central by Michel Richard restaurant, an airy and bright American restaurant with an outdoor terrace that can be used for events. Also opening is a branch of New York’s famed Old Homestead Steakhouse, a fixture of New York’s now-hip meatpacking district 1868. The Sugar factory American Brasserie opened earlier this year in Paris Las Vegas. Overlooking and opening onto The Strip, the 30,000 sf brasserie has a well-deserved reputation for its desserts, including the Chocolate Lounge. 

Last month Picasso, the James Beard award-winning chef Julian Serrano’s Spanish-influenced, AAA five-diamond restaurant at Bellagio, added a new, year-round outdoor patio overlooking The Strip and the Fountains of Bellagio. It seats 56. 

On the nightlife side, Bellagio will debut an outpost of Hyde Lounge on New Year’s Eve. The 12,000 sf Hyde Lounge Bellagio will have an outdoor terrace—expanded from when it was part of the Fontana Bar at that location—and be designed by Philippe Starck and award-winning Icelandic architect/designer Gulla Jonsdottir. An outpost of a nightclub with locations in Hollywood and Los Angeles, another Hyde Lounge will open in Miami Beach next year. 

After opening the Crystals retail area at CityCenter in 2009, owner MGM Resorts International has been steadily adding to the collection of high-end shops in the 500,000 sf space. At the end of 2010, a spate of top fashion retailers arrived, including Balenciaga, Gucci, Prada, Yves Saint Laurent, Emilio Pucci, Donna Karan, and Stella McCartney, as well as an outpost of Fifth Avenue New York jeweler Harry Winston. This March, 150-year-old Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer also opened a boutique in Crystals. Over at Bellagio, there is a new Louis Vuitton boutique and gallery of nature photographer Jeff Mitchum this year.