Fact-checking CityCenter

Veer Towers, Crystals and The Harmon Hotel at CityCenter in October 2009.

The largest private development in U.S. history opened a year ago on the Strip. In the months before CityCenter’s big unveiling, the flacks and execs of parent company MGM Resorts made a lot of predictions—often grandiose and at times irrational. Here we separate the promises made, kept and broken.

CLAIM: The entire CityCenter project will open by the end of 2009.

REALITY: The bulk of CityCenter opened last December. The frenetic pace of construction at the site, however, likely contributed to the deaths of six workers in little more than a year. The defective Harmon tower has yet to open, and many observers believe it never will.

CLAIM: It will be profitable shortly after opening.

REALITY: Okay, “shortly” is subjective, but this one’s not looking good. From January 1 to September 30, CityCenter posted a net loss of almost $1 billion, including $600 million in write-downs.

CLAIM: A project of this scale and refinement will spark unprecedented interest in Vegas, growing the pie for all hotel operators in town.

REALITY: More people visited Vegas in the first nine months of 2010 than in the same period last year—2.4 percent more, to be exact. But CityCenter can’t take all the credit. Vegas visitation in 2009 was particularly light, down 3 percent from 2008.

CLAIM: CityCenter will be a “city within a city,” evoking the feel of more densely populated areas.

REALITY: Local architect Joel Bergman calls the approach to CityCenter “cold” and “uninviting,” sentiments echoed by numerous critics. If the designers were attempting to re-create, say, downtown Indianapolis on a Wednesday night, this claim might have held up. But Naptown was never the intent.

CLAIM: High-end public art will be all around and free for everyone to enjoy.

REALITY: True without qualification. MGM Resorts invested $40 million in contemporary art for CityCenter. Highlights include works by Maya Lin, Henry Moore and Frank Stella.

CLAIM: CityCenter doesn’t need a flashy marquee that belches fire. It doesn’t need a Strip-facing marquee at all.

REALITY: A year since opening, the property has caved to Vegas marketing convention: A multimillion-dollar marquee is planned for the Strip.

CLAIM: CityCenter will redefine customer service in the nation’s most service-oriented economy. Workers will be trained to be preternaturally helpful and friendly.

REALITY: On, the de facto if imperfect website for hotel guest ratings, Aria’s four-star aggregate rating (1,100 reviews) is bested by those of Encore and Bellagio and even down-market casinos such as Suncoast and the Orleans.

CLAIM: In 2004, then-MGM Mirage CEO Terry Lanni, said: “You bring excitement and you bring people. If you just end up building more rooms, that’s bad for Las Vegas. Once again, [CityCenter] will be a reason to come to Las Vegas. If it isn’t, it will be a failure.”

REALITY: Readers, we’ll let you call this one.


John P. McDonnall

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