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CityCenter

[The Strip Sense]

Cut the wrap, Aria! Ads seriously undercut design

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An illustration of what a wrap on the side of Aria might look like.
Courtesy of vegastripping.com

MGM Resorts brass made many pre-opening claims about CityCenter that were, in retrospect, ridiculous. CEO Jim Murren predicted the super-expensive mall would become a communal gathering place for locals who otherwise avoid the Strip, that there was something akin to Central Park somewhere in that 67-acre, concrete-steel-glass landscape, that opening the complex would single-handedly increase Vegas visitation this year by 7 percent.

But one of Murren’s assertions rang true: They had built a collection of ambitious structures designed by the world’s great architects, proving a commitment to high-brow culture that would make a serious statement about Vegas’ maturation. These were special buildings, to be treated with great respect and honor, their exterior magnificence CityCenter’s calling card to prove the sea change promised to those who ventured inside.

Yet, now comes word that Murren’s crown jewel, the glittery and gorgeous Aria, could succumb to the modern Strip’s worst aesthetic trend, The Wrap.

Please, Mr. Murren. Anything but that. I beg of you. Don’t do it.

You will be sorry. Stick to your guns, be the art-history snob you touted yourself as when you told the media that you’re not any ol’ gambling exec. It’s hard to imagine that Steve Wynn would wrap Wynn or Encore even if business were bad. And you know why? Because it’s tacky even when it’s not ugly.

As I understand it, the plan under consideration is to slap a bumper sticker promoting the Cirque show Viva Elvis on the I-15 side of Aria. The wrap that already exists for that show is on the tragic, unfinished Harmon, but insiders say that structure will be essentially turned into the world’s most expensive multi-use billboard in an effort to hock the myriad goodies of CityCenter and divert visitors from their soon-to-open neighbor, the Cosmopolitan. Even if it’s small and tasteful, it’s a gateway to more façade doodling.

Murren told me a year ago this week that it pained him to wrap the Harmon, a structure designed by starchitect Lord Norman Foster that had already endured the ignominy of being cut in half thanks to construction problems and which wouldn’t open with the rest of the complex. MGM didn’t have a choice, though, because Murren was contractually obligated to Cirque du Soleil to have a big marquee for Viva Elvis, and he’d decided against having a traditional marquee for CityCenter. This was a temporary solution, he vowed.

I gave them guff because it was antithetical to the lofty ideas they promulgated about CityCenter as a different Vegas concept. Also, the Harmon was an unoccupied building facing the Strip, and you do what you must in these tough times. Now they’re talking about not just erecting the forsaken traditional marquee on the Strip side, but also defacing the west side of Aria?

That’s just shameful. Foster must regret working with you, and now you’d alienate the great Cesar Pelli, too? Can’t you just hear the smug, high-art crowd tittering to Pelli: “Well, you designed for Vegas, dahling. What did you expect?”

And for what? Has anyone proven such signs facing that highway result in increased awareness? Madison Avenue didn’t think so a couple of years ago when MGM tried to sell the Luxor’s west-facing sides to advertisers. They even put up what amounted to “YOUR AD HERE” signs on the Vegas icon. Embarrassingly, nobody bit.

“What we were trying to create was not just another resort, not just another mall, but an urban environment that doesn’t exist here, and to create the energy and the interest and real urban planning and be thoughtful about parking and vehicular circulation and pedestrian circulation and parks and open spaces and an art program,” Murren once told me.

Much of that was salesmanship, but the art and architecture is bona fide. For now, anyway. The minute you treat your exterior the way Harrah’s treats the Flamingo, you degrade not just Aria’s integrity but that of the overall enterprise. Some things ought to be sacred, even in Vegas.

Follow Steve on Twitter at TheStripPodcast or head to VegasHappensHere.com for his blog and weekly celeb-interview podcast, The Strip. E-mail him at SteveFriess@aol.com.
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