MGM’s plan for north Strip concerts, fairs slated to move ahead

MGM Resorts International’s plan to bring concerts, fairs and other outdoor events to the northern edge of the Strip in hopes of capitalizing on the growth of outdoor-oriented attractions along the resort corridor will move ahead next week

The company has applied with Clark County zoning officials for permits to operate an outdoor recreational facility on 39.6 acres at the southwest corner of Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard South. The site would have concerts, festivals, live music and sporting events like soccer and boxing, according to the application.

The Clark County Zoning Commission is slated to hear the application Wednesday.

The plans calls for typical events drawing up to 25,000, but also anticipate other events drawing up to 85,000 attendees and another 10,000 support staff. It also represents a growing trend toward nongaming attractions offered along the Strip to lure tourists seeking alternatives to slot machines and blackjack tables.

Gordon Absher, vice president of public affairs for MGM Resorts International, said the plan follows the trend of increased use of outdoor spaces and activities like The Linq, East Fremont area, First Fridays and the iHeart Radio festival.

“Our customers no longer want to stay inside of one resort when they visit,” he said in a statement. “They want to go outside and explore, experiencing many different places and atmospheres. This space would become a resource for us to do what we do very well – find the next big thing and deliver it beyond expectations.”

The area is slated to debut the Rock in Rio music festival in May.

Greg Borgel, a land-use consultant who represents MGM and other Strip properties for major projects, said the proposal falls in line with the overall trend toward offering events and other activities beyond gaming.

“For Las Vegas, the route to growth and success is doing events as opposed to more slot machines,” said Borgel.

Borgel said there really is no need for more rooms on the Strip other than the ones that built, already planned or about to reopen. That makes land ares like this project an ideal use for outdoor events, he said.

“For a number of years, it will make a great opportunity to have events and then somebody it’s going to be a great place to build a resort or hotel, but that’s someday,” he said.

Tourists visiting Las Vegas do more sightseeing compared to past decades, he said.

“There was a tendency to come to Caesars Palace, gamble, swim and eat and maybe you went somewhere else and maybe you didn’t,” he said. “Now you come to Caesars and you want to see the whole town.”

David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at University of Nevada-Las Vegas, said that the move reflects a pattern toward drawing people into multiple events and offering a variety of attractions.

“I think it’s a smart move,” he said.

It also comes as gaming is expanding elsewhere in the United States and visitors sometimes have less disposable income for gaming activities, he said.

Hotel towers aren’t in the plans. Instead, the open site would have equipment like stages, vendors and seating set up and removed for each event. There would also be a permanent 2,700-square foot administrative building for storing equipment. Four restroom buildings are planned for throughout the site.

The plans would devote 23.3 acres for the main festival event area, 7.7 acres for shuttle buses, limos and taxis to pick up and drop off attendees, and 8.6 acres for a pedestrian walkway between the event area and the transportation area.

One potential hurdle the project faces before zoning officials is parking. The applicants are seeking a waiver for a requirement to provide 4,077 parking spaces. The company hopes to offset that requirement by offering shuttle service from other MGM properties and a shuttle from an existing festival lot on the east side of the Strip between Reno Avenue and Mandalay Bay Road. Locals would need to park at that area, called “the Festival Lot South,” and take a shuttle to the event site.

In documents, county staff cite concerns that public transportation, shuttles and off-site parking is adequate for the project. The county staff has suggested more analysis and looking into possible traffic and pedestrian controls to address transportation include congestion and the unloading and loading of attendees.

The company said it will work with the county on that issue and commission a traffic study that looks at all the needs.

Plans for the land have changed following the recession.

The company had announced plans in 2007 — now abandoned — to develop a joint venture to construct a resort there with Kerzner International Holdings, which built the Atlantis Paradise Island resort in The Bahamas.

The project site is part of two land acquisitions that the company completed in 2007. Those deals, valued at $575 million, left the company with more than 100 acres for development between Circus Circus Drive and Sahara Avenue. The deals involved purchasing land from Gordon Gaming Corp. and Concord Wilshire Partners, a California developer.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1.