Now that we have several months of data showing that MGM Mirage’s $8.5 billion gambit on CityCenter has failed to move the needle on citywide visitation—let alone that it would help bump up 2010’s tourist numbers to a full 7 percent increase over 2009—perhaps it’s time to offer a little advice on how things can be better. After all, I interact on a daily basis with actual tourists and routinely check out MGM Mirage’s competition. So I have a few suggestions. They’re not groundbreaking ideas, but they’re commonsensical and, for the most part, not terribly expensive.
1. Docent tours One of the truly groundbreaking elements of CityCenter is the $40 million art collection scattered throughout the 67-acre campus. A four-color, tri-fold, self-guided tour and some tiny placards in place near the pieces don’t do them justice. CEO Jim Murren said before the opening he envisioned free guided tours, so why haven’t they started them yet? There are so many wonderful works that could benefit from real explanations, from the paper-stacked installation by Peter Wegner by the elevators at Vdara to the fabulous, controversial Jenny Holzer electronic adage-o-rama thing at Aria’s north valet pick-up. As an added bonus, you know who really, really loves guided tours? Foreign tourists! That’s the sweet spot you’re after.
2. A new buffet For all the lip Murren has paid to Aria’s free-grazing trough and how it was designed, pre-Great Recession, with excessive opulence, it is difficult to comprehend how they ended up with a salad bar the size of a table at a Baskin Robbins. Murren insisted his team could create amazing things because they had been operating the Bellagio for most of its existence, but did they even take a note from the Bellagio’s fantastic, sumptuous-looking, live-action-stationed entry in this Vegas staple? It sure doesn’t look like it. The food is average at best and the buffet at the Mirage is far more physically beautiful and tasty.
3. More entertainment Why create some 6,000 hotel rooms and offer up precisely one show, Viva Elvis? If you’re not interested in a hagiography of The King, what then? It’s amazing that the Venetian, which positioned itself first and foremost as a business and convention destination, had at least three major showrooms even before its owners opened Palazzo. The solution? Well, Danny Gans toiled in a converted ballroom at Mirage for years, so Aria could do something like that. But I’m rooting for them to put their Cirque du Soleil-Michael Jackson extravaganza at Monte Carlo and then making a serious effort to integrate that resort into the CityCenter complex.
4. Bridges, self-parking and sundries, oh my This one’s a mishmash of minor but significant complaints. Murren has boasted about how terrifically walkable CityCenter is, so how come to get from Vdara to Crystals, the best move is to hike to the Bellagio and take the tram? He insists it’s so easy to park, but there’s just one self-park lot, at Aria, which makes going to Crystals a pain for those of us with crappy cars that we’d rather not valet for fear they’ll stall six times en route to the parking spot. And how is it that Murren and Co., with their vision of making the Strip livable, have built Vdara with 1,500 condo-hotel units and no place in the lobby to buy even a stick of gum or an aspirin?
5. Market to the locals I cannot recall the last time I saw a TV commercial or print ad in the Vegas media for anything at CityCenter beyond Viva Elvis. Other than the Viva Elvis charity event for KNPR, I can’t think of nor find online any standing locals offer, either. How can that be? Doesn’t MGM Mirage want CityCenter to be top-of-mind when friends and relatives from out of town come in?
Free advice. Worth what you paid for it.