Echelon groundbreaking

Boyd Gaming broke ground on Echelon Place today. Here’s the AP story, but I’ll cut and paste some stuff from two press releases I go this morning. First up: the Delano and Mondrian:

Morgans Hotel Group Co. and Boyd Gaming Corporation today announced their development and design plans for the new Mondrian and Delano hotels at Echelon in Las Vegas. A world-class team of designers and architects has been appointed to lead the project.

MHG and Boyd have named Chad Oppenheim as design architect, Klai Juba as executive architect, Marcel Wanders as interior designer for Mondrian, Piet Boon as interior designer for Delano and Cagley and Tanner as executive interior designer. Together, this celebrated team of designers and architects will design and develop the hotels to bring a new level of style and sophistication to Las Vegas.

“We are incredibly excited about this project and the talented design team we’ve assembled,” said Ed Scheetz, President and Chief Executive Officer of MHG. “The level of creativity and experience each brings to this project is perfectly matched with MHG’s goal to set a new standard for groundbreaking hotels.”

“The Delano and Mondrian are iconic hotel brands and will help define Echelon,” said Bob Boughner, President and Chief Executive Officer of Boyd Gaming’s Echelon Resorts. “Their presence will add a fresh sensibility to the Las Vegas hotel experience.”

As announced in January 2006, MHG and Boyd will develop a Delano and Mondrian at Echelon through a 50/50 joint venture. The new Mondrian and Delano will feature approximately 860 and 550 rooms respectively, with a diverse collection of rooms, suites, lofts and bungalows. Each hotel will feature its own porte-cochere, lobby, destination restaurants, nightlife venues, pools and gardens and will have direct access to the gaming, retail, dining and entertainment offerings of Echelon. Delano will boast a lobby bar and one of Morgans Hotel Group’s historically successful restaurants, and amenities including a spa and fitness center, private pool and recreation area. Mondrian will include an innovative nightlife venue, private pool and meeting and conference space to appeal to both business and leisure guests. The expected development cost for the project is approximately $950 million.

And here’s the general project rundown:

Hotel Echelon

Hotel Echelon, with 2,500 guest rooms and suites, will embody elegance, comfort and convenience with clean, contemporary design. The guest rooms and suites, designed by Lawrence Lee Associates, will be thoughtfully appointed to host, with equal attention, guests visiting for business or staying for pleasure. The hotel will feature a grand arrival experience and a dramatic entry lobby designed by Gabellini Sheppard Associates. A separate dedicated group arrival area will ensure smooth check-in and access to the hotel. The hotel will also feature a two-story luxury spa, salon, barbershop, a comprehensive fitness center and lushly landscaped pools and gardens.

Suites at Echelon

The Suites at Echelon is a 650 all-suite hotel catering to the discerning business traveler and indulgent vacationer alike. With a separate entrance and porte cochere, the Suites at Echelon will offer an elevated level of style, service and amenities. With interiors designed by Jeffery Beers International, the hotel will feature suites ranging in size from 800 square feet to over 7,000 square feet, a hotel lobby with guest reception and concierge, an intimate bar and lounge and a feature restaurant. The Suites at Echelon will showcase dedicated conference space, a luxurious spa, salon and full-service fitness center. The all-suite hotel will be steps away from high-limit casino action.

Shangri-La Hotel, Las Vegas

Shangri-La Las Vegas will be operated by Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, Asia’s premier five-star luxury hotel company. The intimate, modern luxury setting will include 282 guest rooms and 71 premium suites with a distinctive porte cochere and hotel lobby. Shangri-La will feature 14 guest rooms per floor, providing quick and easy access from elevators, and will offer a superior in-room hospitality experience. With interiors designed by Hersh Bedner Associates, the hotel will feature a 20,000 square foot CHI spa, well-appointed premium meeting space and two feature restaurants.

Delano and Mondrian Las Vegas

The new Mondrian and Delano will feature approximately 860 and 550 rooms respectively, with a diverse collection of rooms, suites, lofts and bungalows. Morgans Hotel Group has named Chad Oppenheim as design architect for both hotels, Marcel Wanders as interior designer for Mondrian and Piet Boon as interior designer for Delano. Together, this celebrated team of designers and architects will design and develop the hotels to bring a new level of style and sophistication to Las Vegas.

Each hotel will feature its own porte cochere, lobby, destination restaurants, nightlife venues, pools and gardens and will have direct access to the gaming, retail, dining and entertainment offerings of Echelon. Delano will boast a lobby bar, one of Morgans Hotel Group’s historically successful restaurants, and amenities including a spa and fitness center, private pool and recreation area. Mondrian will include an innovative nightlife venue, private pool and meeting and conference space to appeal to both business and leisure guests. Construction on the Delano and Mondrian is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2008.

Echelon Retail Promenade

Echelon’s Retail Promenade will complement the style and sophistication of the five distinctive hotels of Echelon. With interiors designed by Gabellini Sheppard Associates, the contemporary promenade will feature a mix of luxury boutiques, international brands, distinctive cafes and signature restaurants. The Retail Promenade is co-owned by Boyd Gaming and General Growth Properties, one of the retail industry’s most diversified and well-resourced operators.

Entertainment Venues

AEG, one of the world’s leading producers of entertainment and sporting events, whose venues include The O2 in London and O2 World in Berlin, the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the Nokia Theater in New York City, will operate the 4,000-seat production theater that has been designed to accommodate both concerts and production shows. In addition, a more intimate 1,500-seat theater will house touring acts and performances.

The Meeting Center

The Meeting Center at Echelon has been designed to meet Las Vegas’ strong and growing demand for meetings and convention space integrated into a resort environment. The Meeting Center will feature 650,000 square feet of meeting and convention space, bringing the total meeting and convention space at Echelon to approximately 750,000 square feet, including over 200 meeting rooms. The Meeting Center’s proximity to the 5,000 rooms at Echelon will offer guests unparalleled convenience and access.

Echelon Resort Las Vegas

This is going to be way more than Borgata West, and will do a lot for the north end of the Strip. I wonder how much new convention space the Strip can absorb–Fontainebleau will also be heavy on meeting space. I’m interested in seeing how this one develops.

Non-gaming at MGM Mirage

There’s a nice interview in the LV Sun with Gamal Aziz of MGM Mirage:

The latest annual report for MGM Mirage forgoes descriptions of casino floors in favor of haute cuisine, stage performances and museum pieces.

And lest there be any remaining doubt about a new direction of the company, “Transformation” is printed boldly on the cover.

Such is one outcome of the company’s move to create a subsidiary that will focus on building luxury nongaming hotels worldwide, both on its own and through partnerships with casinos and non casino companies.

Today, the company is to announce the appointment of MGM Grand President Gamal Aziz to lead that subsidiary, MGM Mirage Hospitality LLC. Aziz will continue to oversee MGM Grand along with his new duties. Primary among them: hiring veterans of the hotel – versus gaming – industry.

Aziz, who spent 15 years with the Westin hotel chain before arriving in Las Vegas 11 years ago to assume a food and beverage position at Caesars Palace, has played a role in MGM Mirage’s desired transformation from gam ing giant to international hotel company.

Recruiting other executives from the hotel business, Aziz fostered a melting pot of ideas at MGM Grand that helped transform the casino’s Disneyland atmosphere into a less-themed luxury hotel befitting discriminating travelers.

What might seem like a sudden love affair with all things nongaming is instead a long-term business strategy driven by customer demand, Aziz said in an interview .

Is MGM Mirage’s changing focus from a gaming company to an international hotel brand a byproduct of growth or does it reflect a new business strategy?
Las Vegas SUN: Q+A: Gamal Aziz

Very interesting. It’s clear that MGM Mirage is doing the right thing by diversifying into non-gaming–though they have plenty of opportunities for casinos with recent proliferation, they have the opportunity with their well-placed Las Vegas flagships, to start many “brands” if they choose.

New Frontier to New Plaza?

The long-rumored sale of the New Frontier to the Elad group has apparently gone through. Translation: the Frontier’s days are numbered, so if you want to ride the bull at Gilley’s, start making plans now. From the press release:

New York-based Elad Group, owner of the iconic Plaza Hotel, has purchased the last available prime parcel on the Las Vegas Strip where it will develop a $5 billion multi-use ultra-luxury hotel, private residence, retail and gaming complex bearing The Plaza brand, it was announced by Miki Naftali, Elad’s president.

The 34.5 acre site is currently occupied by The New Frontier & Casino which will be demolished to make way for the new Las Vegas Plaza.

“We are delighted to enter the Las Vegas market and introduce the highest level of luxury and sophistication as defined by The Plaza worldwide,” said Mr. Naftali. “Though planning is in the early stages, The Plaza in Las Vegas will introduce the classical elegance and grandeur of the storied New York landmark to The Strip. We look forward to being part of a community with some of the most prestigious, dynamic and visionary developments anywhere,” he said.

The site is directly across from the Wynn Las Vegas and Wynn’s newest development, the Anchor, and will build on the concept that unparalleled luxury and service represent the new standard rather than theme park attractions.

The Plaza in Las Vegas plans to feature a six-diamond hotel, private residences, the Plaza Retail Collection, a state-of-the-art casino, destination restaurants and spectacular convention space.

Demolition is slated to begin early next year. Construction is anticipated to take three years, with an official opening slated for 2011.

“There is only one original Plaza, and that will never change, but all that the brand stands for in terms of style, service and luxury will be intrinsic to the Plaza Las Vegas,” Mr. Naftali said. “We also look forward to bringing the Plaza brand to other destination cities in the near future, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C, Boston, London, Paris, Rome, Tokyo and Shanghai,” he said.

$5 Billion Investment to Bring The Plaza to Las Vegas

Interesting note: Donald Trump used to own New York’s Plaza, and he’s got one (eventually two) condo towers with his name on them behind the site of the “Las Vegas” Plaza. Coincidence? Maybe.

To my understanding, the actual resort will cost $3.5 billion to build (the $5 billion figure includes the price of the land), which is about a billion more than Wynn Las Vegas, and only a billion or so less than Echelon Place, which will be about 2.5 times as big, at least as far as acreage goes. So this is either going to be a very, very opulent resort, or it just got a lot more expensive to build on the Strip. Construction crews will be at a premium over the next few years, with Echelon, Project City Center, Fontainbleau, the Tropicana rebuild, the M resort to the south, and a slew of condos in various stages of construction.

No word in the press release on how they’ll finesse the fact that there already is a Plaza Las Vegas. Maybe the new owners know something we don’t about the future of that downtown casino. If they’re forecasting a 2011 opening for the “new” Plaza, it’s worth saying that a lot can happen in three years, and the (current) Plaza’s fate is anything but certain given the various proposals to redevelop downtown.

New Strip carpets added

Over the weekend, Suni and I made a trek up and down the Las Vegas Strip. Of course, I took a few pictures of new carpets at the MGM Grand, Flamingo, and Harrah’s, as well as Planet Hollywood. See them all here:

Die is Cast casino carpet gallery 1

In the meantime, here’s a teaser: see if you can guess where this carpet came from:

mystery carpet

Night on Wynn Mountain

Technically, this story isn’t set ON the mountain at Wynn Las Vegas, but inside it. But it’s an allusion to a popular piece of classical music and just sounds better than “INSIDE THE ARTIFICIAL MOUNTAIN AT WYNN LAS VEGAS.”

Ace KLAS-TV reporter Edward Lawrence somehow got inside the Mt. Wynn and, with the help of a photojournalist or two, shot a pretty good story in and around there. Check it out, from KLAS, which bills is website as LasVegasNow:

Driving by Wynn Las Vegas it’s easy to see the mountain Steve Wynn built in front of his hotel. What you have not seen, until now, is what’s inside the mountain.

It makes for a great picture. Tourist Lelia Hirsch exclaims, “Driving by it’s beautiful.” It drowns out the sound of the Las Vegas Strip. It blocks the Las Vegas lights. The mountain also hides a secret. It’s hollow.

Workers get in and out of the mountain through a tunnel under the main lake in front of Wynn Las Vegas. There’s a workshop and freight elevator which rises onto the mountain. Wynn Las Vegas Executive Director of Horticulture, Jim Gibbons says, “This mountain can stay here 100 years. It’s build on solid concrete with pockets built into it to hold the plants.”

Gibbons designed the mountain selecting every tree and plant on it. He says the hardest part is constantly topping himself. Gibbons helped lay out the San Diego wild animal park. He also developed the rainforest in the Mirage, the plants at Treasure Island, and came up with the atrium idea for the Bellagio.

When asked if he plans to retire? He responds, “No. I don’t need to. I’m retired doing this.” The mountain will be his legacy. Gibbons says Wynn built it with the plants in mind. He adds it has perfect drainage, perfect soil in the planters, and the trees love it. | News for Las Vegas, Nevada – Wynn’s Mountain on the Las Vegas Strip

Click through and keep reading, because there’s some interesting stuff in there–both in the story and in the mountain. Actually, I’m a little surprised that no one’s thought of squeezing a high roller suite or two in there.

I’ve got to think that it would be almost impossibly cool to pay your check at one of the restaurants, get up from the table, jump into a little raft, and paddle over to a secret door in the mountain. It’s also a primo spot for a secret base–if you need a secret base. I don’t think Steve Wynn does–I’ve been in his office, and it’s pretty nice.

Happy New Year!

In Las Vegas, it’s New Years all right…Chinese New Year. I’ve often said that casinos are in the forefront of commerce-driven multi-culturalism, and this is yet another example: Strip resorts are proclaiming, at considerably expense, their jubilation at the advent of the Year of the Dog. From the LV Sun:

Marketing to Asian — particularly Chinese — gamblers is Management 101 for casino bosses. Just about anybody who works in a casino knows that many Chinese believe the color red and the number 8 are lucky and that the number 4 is unlucky.

Many Las Vegas Strip properties have decorated their lobbies and casinos with orange trees, red lanterns, gold coins and other Chinese symbols of luck and prosperity.

Caesars Palace’s top executive will be on hand Feb. 4 for a traditional “painting of the eye” lion ceremony in front of the property. The Venetian will host a dragon dance, complete with firecrackers and traditional music, in its casino on Saturday. At the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Chinese singer Paula Tsui will perform in Mandarin and Cantonese on Saturday and Sunday.

For non-Chinese, the public displays are an intriguing and colorful nod to an important ethnic group. For Las Vegas casinos, it’s a business imperative.

Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year, has grown from a small, private welcome for Asian high rollers to a more mainstream event for middle-income Chinese and Asian-Americans.

It now ranks as one of the biggest gambling events of the year for Las Vegas, vying for second place with the Super Bowl, behind New Year’s Eve, experts say. Hotels are expecting 100 percent occupancy this weekend in advance of the celebration, which begins Sunday and lasts for two weeks.

A Chinese propensity to gamble is a long-held truism in Las Vegas that has yet to be documented with any accuracy. But some say there is a cultural basis for gambling during Chinese New Year — a holiday that is inextricably tied to testing one’s luck.

If a person wins a wager, it could bring new luck for the rest of the year, or so the tradition goes. Losing a bet could rid the bettor of bad luck that’s accumulated over the past year.
Las Vegas SUN: Casinos open arms for Asians with open wallets

I like how winning a bet is good luck, but losing is good luck as well. It’s very optimistic.

The rest of the story is very good, so click on through.

Just so I’m not left out, I’d like to extend my warm wishes for a lucky and healthy New Year to everyone:
Happy New Year!

Here’s a hot tip: check out the “Strip Tease” column in Monday’s Business Press. There will be an item about the impending demise of a storied Strip resort.

Showgirl showdown

It seems that the Tropicana in Las Vegas has something called the “Showgirl Showdown,” which from its name suggests showgirls staffing casino games.
Either that, or The Price is Right has a new segment.
There’s a picture from the Sun that shows the showdown in progress. I just thought that this was a great opportunity to remind people what a bad bet the game is. Darwin Ortiz says that it is “superfluous to even talk about strategy at a game that offers such outlandishly high house percentage.” He doesn’t mean that in a good way, folks.

Las Vegas SUN: Photo: Jennifer Ron-Monroy mans the Big Six table game