Bellagio

[The Strip Sense]

No ado about something

Bellagio’s 10th birthday passes with a whimper

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The Bellagio and its world famous waterfalls.
MGM Mirage

As momentous occasions go, this one should have been a big deal. And yet, until a friend who works there mentioned it last week, I had forgotten all about it. Bet you did, too.

In mid-October, the Bellagio turned 10. That’s a significant milestone, representing the fact that we’re a dizzying decade on from one of those pivotal turning points in Las Vegas history. The opening of a genuine luxury resort with great food, shopping and amenities was the most important step toward saying to the world, “Vegas isn’t tacky anymore.”

And yet in this city of parties for parties’ sake, of promotions for everything from the opening of terrible movies to the 1,000th production of Cirque du Whatever, what MGM Mirage opted to do to commemorate this milestone was rather, shall we say, anti-Vegas. Lame, too.

They did almost nothing. They threw a party in the employee dining service that involved a buffet of signature dishes from the property’s high-end restaurants and a DJ spinning live. They handed out a brochure with fun facts about Bellagio, showed the names of the 3,181 original employees still working there on an internal monitor and gave everyone a 10th-anniversary T-shirt. (I want one!)

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Bellagio

That’s it. No star-studded party. No special deals for favorite guests. No souvenir chips. Not even a press release.

To understand how odd that is, consider the fuss the company made last week over the fifth anniversary of the free, hourly Sirens of TI show. They even renamed the street that leads into the Treasure Island from Buccaneer Boulevard to Sirens Cove Boulevard.

MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman said each property makes its own publicity decisions. He surmised that the TI, being a mid-range brand, relies more on promotions and perhaps needs the pick-me-up a bit more in these miserable economic times than does the venerable Bellagio, weathering the financial downturn well. Bellagio brass evidently decided that they didn’t need to do anything.

Still, how about just acknowledging the importance of history and of what a transformative decade this has been for this city? All it would have taken was an e-mail to reporters, and they would’ve gotten thousands of dollars in free publicity from travel journalists eager for a new, timely Vegas angle.

My confusion may have been resolved by Las Vegas Sands spokesman Ron Reese. The Venetian is coming up on its 10th anniversary early next year, and I wondered if they had any plans. Reese said he didn’t know, but suggested that they, too, may go the quiet route.

“We operate the brand-new Palazzo, Wynn’s getting ready to open Encore, and maybe in Vegas, older isn’t necessarily better,” Reese said. “You look at the Venetian for an example. Yeah, it’s 10 years old. But we’ve added Phantom and Wayne Brady in the last couple of years, our room product was redone. Instead of celebrating 10 years of history, do you look to stay and remain competitive? If it’s me, would I rather stay at the brand-new, hip, happening place or the place that’s celebrating its 10th anniversary?”

Feldman, who said he personally doesn’t believe this philosophy, nonetheless acknowledged it: “I have heard that before. It’s very real for some people, because Las Vegas tends to get so caught up in the new and the now ... as a result, we’ve come to believe you don’t want to speak of the age of the property that will suggest it is old.”

There is a point, though, when age becomes an asset, because it reflects tradition, and its historic relevance becomes charming. That clearly was the case for Caesars Palace, which made a big to-do about its 40th anniversary in 2006 and used the moment not just to reflect on the history but also to show off how well the place has aged.

MGM Mirage may go that route for the Mirage, which turns 20 in 2009. Having in recent years added a new show, new restaurants, a new nightclub and, next month, a new $25 million volcano, the place is trying to both honor its place in Vegas lore and keep up with the times.

“It’s under discussion,” Feldman said of Mirage anniversary plans. “They haven’t even made a final decision that they’re going to do anything.”

Here’s one vote for them to do something public. I doubt they will, though. By November 2009, we’ll be at the heart of the unveiling of CityCenter. That’ll be the new and the now, for a year or two, anyhow.

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