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Could it be? Natural light in Vegas? In a rare nod to the actual lunar cycle, Simon Property Group is flooding its Forum Shops addition with natural light. Sunlight flows in from the rooftop dome, the oversize windows and the planned, dramatic glass entry off Las Vegas Boulevard, otherwise known as the Strip.

Until the 175,000-square-foot expansion opens Oct. 22, visitors must enter the 500,000 square feet of existing shops through Caesars hotel. Access from the busiest thoroughfare in the city should boost pedestrian traffic, and could help the Forum Shops increase its sales per square foot from the current $1,432, a Simon spokeswoman said. All the stores and the casino are reachable through the new addition. Before, tourists walking the Strip might have missed the entrance to the shops, which was set back and somewhat hidden. The monumental new façade will give the shops the same Strip exposure that Fashion Show mall gets.

While I was touring the construction site in May during the ICSC Spring Convention, brothers and co-chairmen Herb and Mel Simon dropped in to survey the work on what may be their grandest project yet. Herb reviewed details with the contractor; Mel wore a look of pride as he craned to see the ceiling with its frescoes and dramatic dome.

It's rumored that much more than $100 million was spent to build the three-story expansion, which includes what is only the second spiral escalator in the United States The first is at Westfield America's San Francisco Center. Mitsubishi Electric created the technology.

Another dramatic feature is the reflecting pool, which will take up much of the central area on the ground floor. More shops could have been crammed in that space, but Simon wanted a less cluttered feeling. So there's a bright, wide-open atrium with none of the claustrophobic aura that is so prevalent in most of Las Vegas's cavernous stores and casinos.

There are no special entertainment features either, so shoppers can concentrate on the natural aspects of the design and avoid crowds blocking access to the walkways.

The color of the sky will still change throughout the day, as in the original Forum Shops, but in this case, Mother Nature is responsible for the transformation — not backstage scene designers.

One could argue, however, that walking off the Strip into a modern architect's dream of what it might have been like to shop in 100 B.C. qualifies as entertainment enough. But then this is fantasyland USA, where reality is ignored, even abhorred.

The space is 99 percent leased, says Simon. On opening there will be 60 shops and a number of restaurants, including Sushi Roku, Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab (of South Beach fame) and Il Mulino.

The entrance off the Strip, across from Harrah's, will be decorated with sculptures and dramatic landscaping, giving prominence to the front doors. Some stores, such as Harry Winston, have street presence — even a window — on to the colorful parade of visitors strolling along Las Vegas Boulevard.


Location: Las Vegas

Size: 175,000 square feet on three levels

Developer: Simon Property Group

Architect: KGA Architecture of Las Vegas

Stores include: Harry Winston, Scoop, Pucci, Carolina Herrera, Peter Max Gallery, Casa Fuente cigars and accessories and Chrome Hearts.

Opens: Oct. 22

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