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[The Incidental Tourist]

When retail attacks: The Strip might be transforming into a mall—and that’s weird

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Sirens silenced: Retail development is moving into Treasure Island’s lagoon, one of many such projects hitting the Strip.
Leila Navidi

So the pirates are done. Last week’s news that the Sirens of TI show at Treasure Island will not be returning to the Strip-front space known as Buccaneer Bay might have surprised or even saddened Las Vegas aficionados who enjoy colorful casino themes. If you’re one of those people who loves to walk the Strip, immersing yourself in the cheesy-fun glory of it all, you’re not going to like what’s next.

Casinos are creeping. They’re building more and more stuff closer to Las Vegas Boulevard. Basically, the Strip is turning into one big shopping mall.

Treasure Island had to close the pirate show because it’s building a three-story retail center in the lagoon. The 48,000-square-foot development will include a pharmacy, retail shops and restaurants, complementing Señor Frog’s, Gilley’s and Starbucks, which already line the resort’s border with the Strip. The new shops are scheduled to open next fall.

If that sounds like a big deal, check out what’s going on at the Tropicana. In another titanic effort to rebrand the iconic yet perpetually renovating resort—and to maximize traffic from packed Strip pedestrian bridges—the Trop is planning a stunning, 275,000-square-foot, two-story enclosed retail center that will connect its renovated casino and hotel to the rest of the world. Part of that development will actually sit over the casino, forcing the removal of that beautiful stained glass structure. Sorry, aficionados.

It’s everywhere. At Bally’s, construction just started for the Grand Bazaar Shops, an indoor-outdoor collection of 150 different-sized stores, bars and restaurants that’ll take the place of the casino’s space-wasting moving sidewalk entryway. Both the Linq, Caesars Entertainment’s coming-soon alley of retail and restaurant fun, and MGM Resorts’ park-style development at Monte Carlo and New York-New York are essentially branches of the Strip’s big tree, bright and shiny pathways luring tourists into casinos or toward large-scale attractions. (Linq leads to the High Roller observation wheel; MGM’s stuff serves as a gateway to the $350 million, 20,000-seat arena breaking ground in April.)

Financially, it all makes sense. These projects are monetizing land that was previously generating zero revenue—the arena space was mostly parking lot—while creating a sense of excitement usually reserved for new casino-hotels. Non-gaming entertainment has already taken over Las Vegas, and an urban planner might argue that these mall-like, multi-venue pedestrian thoroughfares are emblematic of a growing nationwide preference toward cities over suburbs, diverse streetscapes over traditional enclosed shopping malls.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Mon Ami Gabi at Paris Las Vegas was the only restaurant with Strip-front seating. When themed casinos like Paris were going up in the ’90s, the model was different. Las Vegas Boulevard’s big buildings were set back from the famous street, creating some breathing room for dramatic facades, memorable porte-cochères or, if you were Steve Wynn, erupting volcanoes and dancing fountains.

While it’s hard to imagine a Strip without these awe-inspiring (and free) attractions, they’re simply not part of the formula anymore. Walk the Strip today and it’s tough to decide whether to lament or celebrate this transition. The Trop’s mall seems like it will inject much needed energy into that property. But what if our legendary sidewalks become even more crowded with brand names and kitschy kiosks? Let’s hope the trend doesn’t become a repeat of Fremont Street, where beautiful, historic neon is shrouded by retail huts and drunkards on ziplines. Let’s keep Las Vegas lustrous.

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Brock Radke is Las Vegas Weekly's food editor and author of the Strip-focused column The Incidental Tourist. He has written ...

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