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The Interview Issue: MGM CEO Jim Murren talks about the Park

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MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO Jim Murren
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You’ve just released new details about the Park , the lush pedestrian environment being created between Monte Carlo and New York-New York, full of bars and restaurants and entertainment. First off, is Shake Shack as good as they say? Oh yeah. Danny Meyers went to a little tiny college called Trinity, and that’s where I went. We’re about the same age. He went to New York and became the giant that he is, with Union Square Café and maybe 10 other unbelievable restaurants, and he developed Shake Shack. It has a cult following wherever it goes. I’ve been to the one at Madison Square Park and there are lines any time of day. You wonder how a burger place can be that different, but it’s the whole experience. It feels very contemporary and forward-thinking … Since New York is such a model for this park, for me—parks like Bryant Park and Madison Square Park—Shake Shack would be the ideal anchor tenant. We worked hard to get that deal.

MGM's new project the Park will create a neighborhood environment that encompasses New York-New York and Monte Carlo resorts and the 20,000-seat arena currently in development.

The Linq opened a few months ago, and it seems like that project has caught people off guard, surprised us a little. The Park is similar in that you’re maximizing a space where there was nothing. Do you think you’ll catch people off guard? I know we will, and I agree with your analysis of the Linq. I think it’s great, and I knew it would be.

Gone are the days where people are willing to be told what to do. You’re not set to an itinerary you designed with a travel agent three months ago when you come to Las Vegas. You’re experimental, you’re spontaneous, you’re constantly doing your own research and checking out so many different sites to figure out where the fun places are. The tourists of today—and demographically, the tourists coming to Las Vegas are getting younger—are going to gravitate to these kind of social spaces. They’re collecting social experiences like I collected baseball cards when I was a kid.

I know once people see the execution of the Park, they will be taken off guard. They already are, when they see the New York-New York and Monte Carlo, all thaose landscape [changes] that cost us millions of dollars. The intent was to create a different environment. If you just stamp concrete out there and all the faux stuff you used to have, it just looks like everywhere else. I think people are getting the sense we’re respecting their environment, trying to create an uplifting, safe, clean, quality experience … it was a hostile type of Strip frontage before. Now you have Double Barrel and 800 Degrees and Yusho, and soon we’ll have Sambalatte and the Creamery at Monte Carlo, and it feels more like a piazza kind of place. People are amazed, and they’re doing what I hoped they’d do—sitting down on planters and steps. People are getting a sense of what we’re trying to accomplish with the Park but not nearly the scope of the landscaping. We’re going to prove to the public that desert landscaping is every bit as beautiful as every other kind of landscaping, and we don’t have to import somebody else’s landscaping to our community. We’re going to create shade and structures and microclimates that will be fun during the day, even in the summer. That is going to be the game-changer.

The Park is very close to CityCenter, and the two projects seem to draw on similar influences. Is there anything about the Park that is sort of a lesson learned from CityCenter, something you should have or would have done with CityCenter? Yes. When I came up with the idea of CityCenter back in 2004, I was struck with the fact that Las Vegas is unique—it’s almost 100 percent driven by private developers. There’s been no public urban planning here whatsoever other than great foresight on where the airport is, and then the Beltway, eventually, and a few other things. But there’s no mass transportation to speak of, and there’s no civil overlay that defined what you can do or not do. These resorts were all designed to fight one another, not only thematically, but from an egress perspective. So you move from island to island to island and you have a very hostile pedestrian environment between those islands, and it was designed that way.

CityCenter was built on the belief that if you create great vehicular circulation, shorten the distances between places, bury parking, create some public spaces and bring in world-class architects, you’re going to define it differently. I think we hit it in almost all events, but it’s a little harsher than I wanted it to be. The stores themselves, although they’re making a lot of money, are not as approachable to the average tourist as this will be.

The Park is designed to go after a different demographic, just like CityCenter was designed to go after a different demographic than Bellagio. This Park is designed to have more of a mass market appeal, more conducive to the customers already gravitating to New York-New York and Monte Carlo and the people who will be going to the new arena, which are not only tourists but also locals. And I feel like the Park will be frequented more by [locals] … the people who hang out at Town Square, or the District, or the Linq, or Downtown, they’re going to hang out at the Park because they can park easily at New York-New York or CityCenter, bar hop, go to different kinds of venues, listen to music. That plaza can host any number of music festivals or art festivals, and it’s just going to add to the quality of living here.

The Strip’s future is dominated by projects like the Park and renovations of existing properties. Do you think we’ll ever get back to knocking them down and building new casinos? I think that would be the exception to the norm. We own 42,000 hotel rooms here. We don’t have any urgent desire to build any more rooms here, and we own most of the land. We do believe there’s great merit in repositioning a great hotel, like TheHotel to a Delano. We’re looking at other projects of a similar nature, repositioning towers or floors or elements like Caesars did with Nobu. We have no interest in building another casino-hotel here, and neither will Wynn, in my opinion, nor will Sands, nor will Caesars. There’ll be some new entrants which we welcome, like Genting coming to the market, but that’s not how we’re going to go from 40 million visitors to 50 million.

We’re going to get to 50 million by creating more interest for a broader demographic. Everything we’re investing in caters to that: expanding the convention center, that’s gold for Las Vegas and for food and beverage; driving more international tourism, that’s at 18 percent now and we want to get it to 30 percent over time; and catering to that millennial that we’re talking about.

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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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