|By Howard Stutz, Las Vegas
Review-JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 13, 2009--Billionaire Kirk Kerkorian is celebrating the opening of CityCenter in the same manner he has acknowledged the unveilings of his other Las Vegas-changing projects -- with close friends and associates, and away from the spotlight.
At 92, he's earned that right.
Kerkorian, MGM Mirage's founder, remains the casino operator's largest shareholder with a 37 percent stake. He is an active member of the company's board of directors and had an influential role in getting CityCenter off the ground more than five years ago when then President Jim Murren presented the idea.
Murren, now chairman and chief executive officer, has acknowledged Kerkorian at several public CityCenter grand opening events over the past few weeks, even as the Los Angeles financier has remained in the shadows.
The $8.5 billion CityCenter marks the fourth time Kerkorian has redefined the Strip.
In the 1960s, he opened Las Vegas' first 1,000-room hotel-casino, the International, now the Las Vegas Hilton. In 1973 he built the original MGM Grand, now Bally's Las Vegas, at the time the world's largest hotel-casino. The opening of the 5,044-room MGM Grand Hotel in 1993 solidified his place in the city's history.
Along the way, Kerkorian landed annually on Forbes' richest Americans list. The economy ravaged his net worth, however, and he fell from 27th in 2008 with $11.2 billion, to 97th with $3 billion.
To insiders, Kerkorian remains focused. In a quote Kerkorian provided to Inside Gaming, he considered CityCenter's opening another historic event for the Strip.
"Having been involved in the development of several great hotels in Las Vegas, I'm very proud to be associated with CityCenter and I am truly excited about this amazing new aspect of Las Vegas," Kerkorian said.
In a widely distributed statement, Kerkorian expressed a similar sentiment.
"Of all the wonderful Las Vegas properties with which I've been associated, CityCenter is simply the most amazing. I'm extremely excited to see the public's reaction and look forward to seeing how it changes Las Vegas," he said.
What's next for Kerkorian is still to be determined.
In October, he hinted at divesting himself from MGM Mirage. Some viewed the move as a way to drive up MGM Mirage's stock price.
Murren believes Kerkorian should be acknowledged for CityCenter.
"By design, he gets little recognition for what he's done here," Murren said. "He's given more money away than anybody, and you don't see his name on buildings. He's not putting out press releases celebrating his life. I know he cares deeply about the community. And I believe this is going to be a crowning achievement for him."
Howard Stutz's Inside Gaming column appears Sundays. E-mail him at email@example.com or call 702-477-3871. He blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/stutz.
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