|By Rod Smith, Las Vegas Review-Journal
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Sep. 16, 2005 - The prestigious Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group will manage the hotel anchor at the $5 billion CityCenter project on the Strip, MGM Mirage officials announced Thursday.
Mirage Resorts President Bobby Baldwin, who is overseeing the CityCenter project, said the local Mandarin Oriental will at least be on a par with the Bellagio and will serve as a magnet for visitors who want a more intimate vacation experience than a 4,000-room hotel-casino can offer.
MGM Mirage Chairman Terry Lanni was equally excited about the new hotel, saying that being able to land the Hong Kong-based hotel group and hire a world-class design team to work on the project was like one football team getting the first 10 picks at the NFL Draft.
"The Mandarin Oriental is one of the pre-eminent worldwide hotel brands and will be a great addition to the Las Vegas inventory because of its power in generating added traffic from Asia and Europe," Deutsche Bank analyst Marc Falcone said.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas history professor Hal Rothman said the Mandarin Oriental will make CityCenter a magnet for upscale visitors from Asia as well as from Europe.
"Through the 1980s, Las Vegas was successful in generating visitor traffic from Asia. Since then, gaming companies have been successful in negotiating development deals in Asia, but visitor traffic has dropped off," he said.
"With all the condominium developments, there's going to be a need to generate new visitors to fill rooms with people and this will help do that. If anyone will be successful in generating the added traffic, it's becoming clear it will be MGM Mirage with CityCenter," he said, adding that the hotel will solidify Las Vegas as the leading destination market in the world.
Details of the 400-room Mandarin Oriental project will be announced after the final negotiations on the management contract have been completed, MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman said.
Falcone said CityCenter, with the Mandarin Oriental deal in place, represents the next major transformation of Las Vegas into an urban environment.
"The last was in 1998-2000 with Bellagio and the convention business. This is going to elevate Las Vegas to an urban destination and will be a critical drive for future growth," he said.
Art Gensler, chairman of the Amsterdam architectural firm Gensler, called the overall CityCenter project an architect's dream.
"This is a truly unique attempt to bring urbanism to the enter of a community with a separate set of buildings," he said. "It's going to add to Las Vegas' impact on the world like no other project possibly could."
Peter Cavaluzzi, a principal in Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects, the lead architect for CityCenter, said the project is unique historically.
"Since we had kings and popes with vision, very seldom has it been possible for anyone to build a project of this size and scope all at once," he said.
Now that the design elements are falling into place, the initial challenge is to manage the project, the largest single, privately-financed construction project in U.S. history, in a way to minimize traffic disruption and enable parking in the Strip area.
EEK's first challenge when it started work on the project in April 2004 was to analyze traffic flows in Las Vegas in order to produce a design that minimized disruptions for MGM Mirage and the community, he said.
"(Design) form follows traffic and circulation patterns," Cavaluzzi said.
The project will include two primary automobile entrances on two sides, one at Harmon Avenue, and another from the Strip, he said.
CityCenter will also have 18,000 parking spaces, all close to individual properties and hidden from view, Cavaluzzi said.
In addition, CityCenter will feature a people mover that will connect with the monorail through the Mandalay Resort Group properties to the south. Lanni has said it will ultimately also connect through Caesars Palace with a people mover at The Mirage and Treasure Island.
"The idea is to create an urban transit-type of transportation system," Cavaluzzi said. "It's really a forward-looking urban project, not just transportation and hotel rooms, but all the elements of modern urban living."
During construction, building materials will be brought in along Harmon Avenue and Frank Sinatra Drive, minimizing traffic disruptions, he said.
Also on Thursday, MGM Mirage awarded a $100 million contract to Siemens Corp. for CityCenter lighting technology, electrical distribution and energy conservation.
In addition to EEK, the roster of architects working on CityCenter also includes Cesar Pelli and Associates, Cesar Pelli, Rafael Vinoly Architects, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, Adam Tihany and Sir Norman Foster with Gensler acting as executive architecture firm overseeing the overall design of CityCenter. Tichman Construction Corp. is the executive construction manager, Perini Corp. is the general contractor and the Light Group, which operates the Light nightclub and Fix restaurant at Bellagio, will operate a second boutique hotel.
MGM Mirage wrapped up a three-day design summit with its entire project team, just nine months into a 20-month design phase that started in December when CityCenter was first announced.
Construction, which is expected to start in four or five months, should take 40 more months to complete, Cavaluzzi said.
In addition to the Mandarin Oriental, the completed project will include a 60-story, 4,000-room hotel-casino, 500,000 square feet of retail space, a second 400-room, nongaming boutique hotel and two 500-unit condominium high-rises.
Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group operates 22 luxury hotels in 17 countries, including its original flagship properties: the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong and The Oriental, Bangkok. It has six hotels under development worldwide.
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