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As We See It

Sign of the times: A slow shift at CityCenter

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Finding center: The shimmering CityCenter complex has struggled to reach its game-changing goals since opening on the south Strip in December 2009.
Photo: Steve Marcus

Construction of a towering black Aria marquee on the Strip between CityCenter and the Cosmopolitan really ought to attract more attention. How did you miss it? Or better yet: Where was this sign when CityCenter opened in the first place?

MGM Resorts’ massive, maybe misguided and certainly ill-timed complex has struggled to reach its game-changing goals since opening on the south Strip in December 2009. It was conceived as an actual city center, with residential and office buildings, a park and public art blending with hotel and casino spaces. The recession, among other factors, forced adjustments, but MGM largely stuck to its plan. Three years in, the company seems ready to abandon it.

On February 19, Vegastripping.com reported that some CityCenter employees were told the name CityCenter would be phased out over the course of this year. A spokesperson for MGM Resorts told the Weekly the name “is by no means going away,” but noted that more emphasis will be put on the resort’s individual hotel brands, Aria and Vdara. Last week, MGM CEO Jim Murren said the company is open to selling off pieces of CityCenter, most prominently the 500,000-square-foot Crystals shopping center, and in December, MGM announced the sale of 427 condominiums (more than half) at the twin Veer Towers for $119 million to a New York investment firm that will rent or resell them. The Harmon Hotel, meanwhile, remains in sparkly blue limbo, waiting for the courts to decide whether MGM or Perini Building Company is responsible for the structural flaws that have kept the building unoccupied.

CityCenter’s tremendous public art collection, while still tremendous, isn’t quite public enough. Some of the most striking pieces are in the least-trafficked spots; the Nancy Rubins canoe-fest hidden from the Strip and Jenny Holzer’s light installation behind Aria’s north valet. As for other draws, a new Starbucks is being installed in front of the sleek Mandarin Oriental, right next to a Pinkberry, where once there were high-end retail shops. But those will serve passersby; they’re not the bait to lure people in.

This is CityCenter’s big problem: The results of the largest private construction project in the U.S. are too subtle for the Strip. Its design demands that you seek it out, where other resorts leap unabashedly into the Vegas spotlight whenever possible. And it’s kind of a shame, too, because while CityCenter was born into terrible circumstances, its pieces fit together rather beautifully, if you find the proper perspective. Whether MGM can fit the right lens in front of us remains to be seen.

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Brock Radke is Las Vegas Weekly's food editor and author of the Strip-focused column The Incidental Tourist. He has written ...

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