During a grand opening press conference Wednesday, MGM Mirage’s Jim Murren and other leaders involved with CityCenter discussed the challenges that were overcome during development of one of the world’s largest privately funded construction projects.
Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on 17 December 2009. The article was chosen as part of Hotel News Now’s look back at 10 years of the hotel industry.
LAS VEGAS—When Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Mirage, stepped up to the podium at the press conference for CityCenter’s grand opening yesterday, he couldn’t help but point out the irony of the beautiful December day.
“After the year we’ve had with the economic and financial storm, isn’t it kind of appropriate that we’re having the prettiest day we’ve had in months?” he asked.
To say that development of one of the country’s largest privately developed construction projects was smooth sailing would be way off base. In its five years of development, CityCenter faced a number of obstacles, from the sheer size and complexity of the project, to a lack of financing from lenders, to a near dropout on the part of Dubai World subsidiary Infinity World, which serves as 50-percent joint venture partners with MGM Mirage. And in just the past few weeks, Dubai World struggled under massive debt obligations to the sum of US$60 billion, leaving some to speculate about potential dire consequences for the Las Vegas project.
But under the blazing sun and at the foot of the 4,004-room Aria Resort & Casino, the focus was not on the challenges but on the successes along the way.
Murren described how he went to the MGM Mirage board five years ago with an idea to create an iconic, central gathering place for Las Vegas.
“I’ve always believed that Las Vegas is a great city, but doesn’t every great city need that place?” he asked. “That place in Las Vegas is CityCenter.”
That 18-million square-foot “place” comprises six projects: Aria Resort & Casino, Vdara Hotel & Spa, the Mandarin Oriental, Veer Towers, Crystals Retail and Entertainment space, and the Harmon Hotel. The hospitality components comprised roughly 6,291 guestrooms between them, 400 of which have yet to open as part of the Harmon Hotel. The US$4.88-billion projects sits on about 67 acres in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip. The project initially was valued at US$8.5 billion, but was revised downward following MGM Mirage’s third-quarter earnings in November.
Discussion of the Harmon Hotel was conspicuously absent from the morning’s proceedings. Marred by construction errors that delayed and significantly altered the project, the opening of the Harmon has been pushed back to late 2010, making it the only hotel component that didn’t meet its proposed completion date, which originally was scheduled to open with the other hotels.
- To learn more about the Harmon and issues plaguing its development, read “Murren lends insight into Harmon blame game.”
While other Vegas resorts and casinos borrow from great cultures and destinations throughout the world, CityCenter was designed to reflect the city’s unique aesthetic.
“Well, Las Vegas has its traditions, too, and we have our history,” Murren said. “Las Vegas needs to create its own place on the world stage for it to become what it deserves to be—one of the world’s great cities.”
To meet that end, Murren and CityCenter’s development team assembled a group of first-class architects from throughout the world. Heading the project was Gensler, which oversaw every element of design. Individual properties were designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, RV Architecture, Helmut Jahn, Studio Daniel Libeskind, Rockwell Group, Kohn Pederson Fox and Foster + Partners.
“What I see here is not just glass and steel and concrete, but this is truly dreams made reality,” Cesar Pelli said during the press conference. His firm’s portfolio includes work for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Tokyo, Japan, and the World Financial Center in New York.
“This is truly the result of all of our talents put together to achieve this goal,” he continued, speaking about the Aria, which officiall y opened last night. “We were asked to design a great building for this amazing city. I personal believe that we have achieved it.”
Silver and gold
CityCenter wasn’t just made to look pretty. Every ton of concrete that was laid was part of a careful sustainability plan.
“This is a collection of buildings that will change the way we look at buildings from now on,” said Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council.
Fedrizzi worked intimately with MGM Mirage, Gensler and the project’s team of architects to help guide CityCenter to six Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold certifications, making it the largest LEED development in the world.
“Utilizing design, materials selection and operations, CityCenter has brought a new level of environmental consciousness to the world-famous Las Vegas Strip,” Murren wrote in an e-mail. “The green innovations within CityCenter have helped us evolve the public space and provide a new level of comfort and engagement for our guests.”
The total added cost to achieve LEED Gold certification was 5 percent. The expected energy savings because of such measures is more than 30 percent.
A call to arms
To close the press conference, Murren highlighted the importance of the 12,000 people who have been hired to operate CityCenter.
“The job of the architects, the designers, the incredible creative talent that has never before been assembled for such a space; their job is largely done,” he said. “The job today going forward is for the men and women who will bring this environment to life.
“The only thing left for me to say is something that I’ve been waiting to say for over five years: Welcome to CityCenter.”