As We See It

The closing of ‘Zarkana’ proves Vegas means business

Curtain call: A glimpse of Zarkana, set to close early next year.

Only two Cirque du Soleil productions have ever closed in Las Vegas, both at Aria. That sounds ominous, but it’s not. Not at all.

The wobbly Viva Elvis, the first major show at the CityCenter-anchoring casino-resort that opened in December 2009, was shut down in 2012 and replaced by the more successful and dynamic Zarkana. Now MGM Resorts has announced Zarkana will wrap on April 30, and a new show won’t be taking its place. Instead, Aria’s award-winning, LEED Gold-certified convention center will be expanded in a big way, with the $154 million project delivering an additional 200,000 square feet of flexible meeting space.

It really will be flexible. Stretched over four stories and including indoor-outdoor areas with views of MGM’s coming-soon Las Vegas Arena and adjacent Park promenade, the completed project will total more than 500,000 square feet, including a penthouse-level ballroom that can accommodate events for up to 2,000 guests.

Let’s state the obvious: Conventions have been big business for Vegas for decades, and unlike some of the reasons people visit the Strip, this business is unquestionably booming. With more than 11 million square feet of meeting space and more than 150,000 hotel and motel rooms, Las Vegas ranks second behind Orlando in this year’s Cvent Top 50 Meeting Destinations in the United States list, overtaking Chicago from last year’s ranking. Mandalay Bay just opened its own massive expansion, giving the other MGM resort 2 million square feet to work with. And the LVCVA’s Convention Center District master plan includes the takeover of the Riviera, which will be demolished next year. If you thought subbing space for a Cirque show was a big move, consider wiping out an entire (iconic) 60-year-old casino.

Conventions are the blood pumping through Vegas’ veins. They keep hotel rooms, casino floors, restaurants and nightclubs busy—if not packed—during the week, and major events like CES, MAGIC, Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week and the National Association of Broadcasters can take over the town and spike activity up and down the Strip. Aria has been a top-ranked convention spot since it opened, so doubling down makes sense, even if it means losing a popular entertainment option.

Aria president and COO Bobby Baldwin said there are no plans to build a different live-entertainment venue at Aria, and why would there be? Aria is practically next door to the new arena, the Park and the theater coming to the Monte Carlo. It’s never really business over entertainment in Las Vegas, where those two words are practically interchangeable.

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Brock is an award-winning writer and reporter who has been documenting life in Las Vegas for 20 years. He currently ...

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