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City Within A City Rising in Las Vegas

Bobby Baldwin, president and CEO of Mirage Resorts Inc. is tired of Las Vegas kitsch. “We're about all themed out,” he says. “We've got Egyptians, pirates and volcanoes. Been there, done that.”

Baldwin wants CityCenter, the $5 billion, 18 million sq. ft. mixed-use project he's developing off the Las Vegas Strip to be a dazzling vertical city within a city.

Occupying 66 acres on a site that fronts on the Las Vegas Strip between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo resorts, CityCenter will cover a larger footprint than Rockefeller Center, Times Square and SoHo combined. It will be anchored by a 60-story, 4,000-room hotel and casino and include two 400-room, non-gaming hotels, about 500,000 sq. ft. of retail and restaurant space, and 1,640 luxury condominiums.

“CityCenter will have a tremendous impact because, for the first time, people will be living on the Las Vegas strip,” says Baldwin. “Some of them will be vacation homes, but they will create a sense of permanence and bring a whole new energy to the area.”

More than 100 such towers have been announced for various sites throughout the Vegas market, though it's unclear how many will actually get built, says Perry Muscelli, senior director in the Las Vegas office of Cushman & Wakefield.

“Maybe 25% will get off the ground,” says Muscelli. “These types of projects are very dependent on out-of-town-visitors. MGM has an advantage because they're right in the middle of the hottest part of the strip.”

San Francisco-based Gensler is working with MGM Mirage's Design Group to coordinate nearly a dozen architects, already nine months into a 20-month design process. Cesar Pelli, James Cheng, Rafael Vinoly all are on the star-studded list.

Taubman Centers Inc. has been tapped to develop the retail component. And five design teams are working on what ultimately will be 75 to 90 restaurants, bars, galleries, nightclubs and shops.

MGM Mirage decided to bracket the project with the two luxury hotels, fill the center with retail space and put the large gaming hotel in the back, 900 feet off the strip, a reverse strategy of most Vegas designs, which put gaming out front.

CityCenter will be certifiably green, meeting standards developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. A $100 million deal with Siemens to build an energy-efficient power plant has been signed.

Slated to open in November 2009, all 18 million sq. ft. of CityCenter will be built simultaneously, with construction commencing late next year. Touted as the largest privately financed construction project in the United States, it is expected to create 7,000 construction jobs — and 12,000 to 14,000 permanent jobs once it opens. The company is bankrolling CityCenter through its own cash flow, loans and preconstruction condo sales.

MGM Mirage, formed when MGM acquired Mirage Resorts Inc. in 2000, owns or has a stake in 28 properties — 12 in Las Vegas, including the Bellagio and MGM Grand. MGM Resorts Inc., headed by Baldwin, operates as a division of MGM Mirage. CityCenter will be the company's largest resort and biggest moneymaker.

As hotels become harder to finance, more developers are using condos to help underwrite their projects, says Lewis Shaw, chairman of development firm Jackson-Shaw Co., which is active in the Las Vegas hotel market. Stand-alone condo developers are starting to pull back, sensing a glut. Shaw believes MGM will be the exception. “The elephants like MGM are going to dance; they'll just crush all the little mice scurrying around them.”

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