Crystal Ball: 2018 will be the year of cannabis lounges, the north Strip, Lady Gaga and more in Las Vegas


Change of Residents

Lady Gaga’s recently announced two-year deal to take over the 5,300-seat Park Theater beginning in December has sucked up a lot of the energy when it comes to the Strip’s rotating cast of superstar headliners. But there could be more announcements coming, since some considerable holes are opening up at the Strip’s big three resident-oriented venues: Park Theater at Monte Carlo, the Axis at Planet Hollywood and the Colosseum at Caesars Palace.

The Colosseum wrapped up Mariah Carey’s two-year gig last year (though Mimi is rumored to be headed to the smaller Venetian Theater), and Elton John’s mega-successful, long-running production will end there in the spring. Caesars and AEG could be hunting for a new icon to join Celine Dion, Rod Stewart, Reba, Brooks & Dunn and The Who.

The Axis’ bread-and-butter act, Britney Spears, is finished (though the buzz on Brit, too, is that she’s eyeing another venue), and Jennifer Lopez’s rock-solid “All I Have” will run its final shows in the fall of 2018. Planet Hollywood and Live Nation could use some more firepower to add to the remaining Axis lineup of Lionel Richie, the Backstreet Boys and Pitbull.

But if we were betting, we’d put our money on Park Theater scoring another superstar before those two, as the newest such venue is looking to push its lineup to another level. –Brock Radke

Turnout is Everthing

Gubernatorial candidate Chris Giunchigliani

Midterm elections are like the also-rans of political theater. Without the whistle-stop drama of presidential races, turnout is often low. But this year our state election will be in the national spotlight, and the wild card of turnout should make for an exciting lead up to November.

“There is no level of election in 2018 that is not important,” says UNLV political science professor Michael Bowers, who literally wrote the book on Nevada politics (The Sagebrush State, now in its fourth edition). “The key, as always, will be turnout.” The State legislature, the U.S. House and Senate are all in play. And this being the first major election since Trump’s election, voters might be more motivated than usual.

Republican Governor Brian Sandoval is term-limited out, and all six state constitutional officers will be up for election. The Governor’s race will draw a lot of attention (and rightly so), but Bower says lower ticket positions are also important: “The attorney general will have discretion to challenge or not challenge Trump Administration policies. And the Secretary of State will have control over elections in the pivotal presidential election of 2020.”

Nevada State Democratic Party spokesman Stewart Boss sees November’s election as his party’s best chance to flip the U.S. Senate from red to blue. “Dean Heller looks very vulnerable. He’s got a primary challenger from the right and a strong Democratic challenger,” Boss says. “This is still fundamentally a swing state, where it’s incumbent upon us to mobilize and drive our voters to the polls,” Boss says. When we do that we win, when we don’t do that, we risk losing.” (The Nevada Republican Party did not respond to a request for comment).

No matter your affiliation, do your patriotic duty and vote. The world is watching. –C. Moon Reed

Athletic Support

Las Vegas getting major-league sports feels a bit like the Red Sox and Cubs winning World Series titles: When you’ve accomplished something that elusive for that long, what happens next? In this case, the answer appears to be lots more—and fast. Less than a year after the NHL’s Golden Knights began play, they’ll be joined by the Aces of the WNBA (plus Lights FC of the United Soccer League, for good measure). It’ll be interesting to see whether fan frenzy over hockey carries over to these new endeavors, or whether the novelty of the Knights—and their hot start on the ice—has been a singular occurrence. Will the hockey team’s own second season be met with the same attendance and merchandising successes it found in the first? Folks in the NBA and MLB offices will surely be watching closely.

Of course, 2018 will also be a year for keeping one eye to the west of the south Strip, where construction on the Valley’s controversial new football stadium continues. Love the Raiders or hate ’em, there’s still no sports league bigger than the NFL these days, and Las Vegas’ 2020 entry into that exclusive club will mark the next major step in its suddenly speedy sports evolution. –Spencer Patterson

Lounge Act

Reefer, reefer everywhere and not a place to smoke it. Ever since recreational cannabis lit up Nevada last summer, tourists have been in a pickle. They can buy it, but unless they’re besties with some 420-friendly locals, they have no legal place to consume.

The logical solution is the creation of consumption lounges, which would offer a safe legal spot where visitors can imbibe. So, the City of Las Vegas is working toward an ordinance that would allow for public consumption lounges (Clark County has held back, letting the City test the waters first). Marijuana lobbyist Scot Rutledge predicts these venues could open as early as the spring. “It’s a very important issue, and we’ve worked very hard to get this right,” he says, preferring the term “social-use venues,” which he says better reflects the array of options ahead of us.

Does this mean pot yoga could finally be a thing? Possibly. The City will be taking applications for multiple ideas. But no matter the final incarnation, expect a lot of regulations. –C. Moon Reed

Look to the North

Resorts World

It seems as if we’ve written every January that this will be the year Resorts World Las Vegas will kick into vertical construction, sparking the flame of the North Strip’s resurgence. Maybe the Genting Group’s long-gestating megaresort finally does that in 2018—there are cranes on the site now, and technically construction is underway—but even if it doesn’t, this year should be phenomenal for the northern stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard. As exciting as a new casino-hotel from a new-to-Vegas company might be, there are a couple other sure things coming down the pipeline. (Well, as sure as anything can be in Las Vegas, right?)

In the spring, Wynn Resorts will begin construction on Paradise Park, the lagoon o’ fun taking the place of the golf club between the Wynn and Encore towers. The project will include a man-made lake with all sorts of entertainment and recreation options and a 47-story, 1,500-room hotel with its own convention space, casino and restaurants. Years after Steve Wynn basically said he was done building on the Strip, he’s building on the Strip, and it’s extra sweet since he just agreed to buy the former Frontier site across the street. Who knows what he’ll dream up for that space?

Even more of a lock is the expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center on the Riviera site, a monster project in the design stage, with construction set to begin this summer. Conventions are the Strip’s true engine, and that side of the Vegas business continues to grow; if it wasn’t, Wynn and Genting wouldn’t be building more hotel rooms. So while the immediate future is bright for the North Strip, the more distant future is shining. –Brock Radke

Forward March

On January 21, 2017, thousands of Las Vegans—men, children and busloads of women—took to the streets of Downtown to protest their new president, as compatriots around the nation did the same. One year later to the day, Las Vegas will be home to the national Women’s March of 2018, with a new focus and theme: “Power to the Polls.” It’s the start of a voter registration tour and campaign directed at utilizing the activism and momentum from the Women’s March to help those from marginalized communities get elected to office and to “create transformative social and political change.” We’re already working on our placards. –Leslie Ventura

Downtown Italian

Chef James Trees

There are some fantastically big restaurant openings scheduled for early 2018, but if you’re part of the local F&B industry family, Esther’s Kitchen is the one you’re especially excited about. Chef James Trees is a Las Vegas native who has worked with the likes of Eric Ripert, Michael Mina and Gordon Ramsay, and this week he’ll open Esther’s on Casino Center Boulevard in the Arts District, giving Downtown much more than comforting Italian cuisine.

“We are filling this place with the nicest people you can find,” Trees says. “You will love your server by the time you leave, because they’re so f*cking cool and special and they’re Downtown people and they’re tired of working on the Strip. They just want to walk in the back door and go to work.”

Named for an aunt who helped send him to the Culinary Institute of America in New York, Esther’s will seat 54 (until the large patio nearly doubles that capacity in the spring) and serve faithful, soulful, seasonal, accessible Italian cuisine for lunch, dinner and eventually brunch; no dish will cost more than $30, and the wine list will feature some affordable gems. “All the pastas are going to surprise people, because they’re the classics done in classic style,” Trees says. “The cacio e pepe is not overtly soft, a little tough on purpose. The rigatoni we’re doing with carbonara has some funk from the guanciale, because we’re not being cheap and using bacon or pancetta. But we’re doing spaghetti and meatballs, too. People want what they want, and if you look at Downtown, the simpler restaurants are the ones that do well.”

Thanks to word-of-mouth—other local chefs have been hype-stagramming Esther’s for months—the reservation book was filling up weeks before a January 3 soft opening. Las Vegas is ready for another locals-oriented restaurant Downtown, and Trees appears to have the right recipe. –Brock Radke

Achieving Density

Las Vegas is sprawl. Since the 1990s we’ve built tract after tract of single-family residences, with the occasional high-rise condo for garnish. Now that we’ve hit the mountains on three sides, we’re beginning to dabble in high-density apartment blocks in places that were never meant for that kind of living: Fremont Street, Summerlin, Chinatown.

Vegas is almost wholly unprepared for Manhattan-style living. Our rapid transit is limited to a few RTC express bus lines, and the neighborhoods surrounding these new apartment blocks remain hostile to pedestrians—even the UNLV district, which should have gained a pedestrian environment by now purely by accident. And while it’s all too easy to blame the weather for our relative lack of urban neighborhoods—“Who’s dumb enough to walk around out there, anyway?”—that hasn’t stopped Phoenix, whose summers are every bit as scorching as our own, from building a light-rail line.

Vegas seems to want what other cities have—dense, walkable neighborhoods that encourage car-free living. But we won’t get there simply by slapping up eight-story apartment buildings. We need to lay down rail, invite car-sharing services to the table, put down more bike lanes and widen the damn sidewalks. We’ve taken some tentative steps, but in 2018, we need to get serious. The apartment dwellers are coming, and we’re still not ready. –Geoff Carter

Festival Refocus

In the hours a gunman opened fire on the unsuspecting crowd at the Route 91 Harvest music festival, it was all too easy to imagine that an era of Vegas entertainment—the city’s fairly recent embrace of outdoor music festivals—had come to a horrifying, abrupt end. But while the terror and sadness of October 1, 2017 has left a lasting mark on our city, it doesn’t seem to have dissuaded us from going outside to enjoy live music. Electric Daisy Carnival will return in 2018, as will Punk Rock Bowling and other outdoor music events. (It feels unlikely that Route 91 will return in 2018, though another country music festival will surely come around eventually).

What will those festivals look and feel like? Similar to the airport, perhaps: Expect increased screening, not just at festival gates (where metal detectors and pat-downs are already de rigueur), but at the hotels and high-rises surrounding the festival grounds. Affected Strip hotels and Downtown apartment buildings will likely see the temporary installation of full (and expensive) screening checkpoints. (If New Year’s Eve was any indication, we’ll also see a much heavier police presence and maybe a few drones.) The increased security costs will doubtlessly be added to the price of your ticket. And we’ll accept these limitations without much fuss, because in many areas of our life we already do. (Been to a theme park lately?)

As for how we’ll feel at the fest itself, the first few hours might be anxious. Then the music will take over. Always does. –Geoff Carter

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