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MGM Resorts’ controversial parking policy still on local minds

My wife and I had just completed a great Sunday afternoon at Bellagio.

After suffering like everybody else through the brutal election campaign season, we felt entitled to getting away from the hourly telephone poll calls (we never respond to them) and just being tourists for an afternoon.

Although it’s filled with visitors, the Bellagio Conservatory is a great escape and a way to watch the seasons change since Mother Nature doesn’t do it as noticeably in the desert.

We had a great meal at one of Bellagio’s fine restaurants and even took in one of the fountain shows, which never gets old.

When we left, we headed out on that roller-coaster-hill exit road — and got stopped in the traffic back-flow.

It was only the second time I’d seen a traffic jam behind the exit gates installed as a result of MGM Resorts International’s pay-to-park initiative that began earlier this year. The problem this time seemed to be a balky gate mechanism. An orange cone was placed in front of one of two exit lines leading out of the Bellagio parking garage. Bad luck for everybody that technical difficulties occurred right when lots of people were checking out of their hotel rooms and getting on the road back to Southern California.

Locals, actually, don’t have to pay as long as they scan their Nevada driver’s license at the gate upon entering and exiting. Yes, it’s a hassle, but one of the myths that has grown out of the parking initiative is that everybody pays. Not true.

While waiting in line and hoping the cars behind me didn’t have faulty brakes, I recalled that MGM indicated it may revisit parking policies at the end of the year. An MGM website says, “Self-parking up to 24 hours is complimentary* for guests with a valid Nevada driver’s license until 12/29/2016.” (The asterisk references “subject to availability.”)

The company’s third-quarter earnings call provides an opportunity for journalists to talk with company executives so I asked President and CEO Jim Murren what’s in store for the end of December.

Just an hour earlier that day, Murren was giddy. He was extremely proud of his team and the company is firing on all cylinders.

Everything’s coming up roses for MGM right now.

The company had just gotten word that its new T-Mobile Arena was the highest-grossing arena in the world in September. It’s had some blockbuster concerts and hosted its first basketball and hockey games.

The hockey pregame light show, by the way, is a technical marvel. Check it out below on YouTube if you haven’t seen it.

Later this month, our first big-league franchise, Las Vegas’ entry in the National Hockey League, will have its logo and colors unveiled.

T-Mobile also has propped the door open for the entry of a relocated NBA basketball team, a proposal Murren discussed last month. Hmm. Michael Jordan really likes Las Vegas …

Early next month, the company will open its MGM National Harbor hotel-casino just outside Washington, D.C. By all accounts, the place is beautiful. An 18-foot, 2-ton lion statue was installed last week at the 308-room, $1.4 billion property. The doors open to customers with a party on Dec. 8.

After MGM’s buyout of Boyd Gaming’s half of the Borgata in Atlantic City and the future opening of an MGM property in Massachusetts, the company will have a sweet Interstate 95 corridor of casinos.

Then, just over a week after National Harbor, on Dec. 17, the doors open on the new Park Theater at the Monte Carlo hotel-casino in Las Vegas. The venue, which will have a peak capacity of 6,400, will host the likes of Stevie Nicks and the Pretenders, Cher and Bruno Mars in the months ahead.

The public also will get its first look next month at the MGM Grand’s new gaming space dedicated to millennial guests. Located in the space where the Rainforest Cafe once stood, the area will have music, decor, sports, food, games and a vibe that appeal to that age demographic.

Murren said the floor space was conceived by one of the company’s employee networking groups, which brainstorms ideas for how guests can have a more enjoyable time on property. The company has networking groups for African-Americans, Hispanics, working women and veterans, all looking to cook up the next big program or attraction.

Murren also said in his earnings call that a new convention is headed MGM’s way. He said thousands of people from a Fortune 50 company will be gathering in Las Vegas for the next five years with an option for five more after that. It’s a new-to-Las Vegas show so it’s all new business.

In the middle of next year, MGM Cotai opens its doors in one of Macau’s hottest growth zones. By the time that resort opens — right across the street from Steve Wynn’s gorgeous Wynn Palace and just around the corner from Las Vegas Sands’ new Parisian — maybe Macau will have its new transit system construction completed and track work will occur farther down the line. Take it from Steve Wynn, right now, it’s a mess.

If all that isn’t enough, MGM is on the doorstep in Japan, one of the first in line to step up if that country’s lawmakers agree to make gambling legal.

With all those bright spots on the horizon for MGM, it’s the controversial parking policy that attracts most local people’s attention.

Murren said so far, the parking initiative has been successful. The fees guest pay to park don’t affect company revenue materially, Murren said, but it does help pay for the lighting, wayfinding, space identification and security camera additions. It was pretty easy to find an open space in the Bellagio lot that Sunday afternoon.

A brand new parking garage to serve T-Mobile guests is well underway just west of Excalibur and Murren said it would be ready to go by June, in time for our first NHL hockey season.

Murren said there’s a parking committee headed by one of the company’s property presidents looking into what happens next with parking fees.

He added that there are now fewer cars parked in MGM garages owned by people looking to dodge nearby McCarran International Airport’s parking fees when locals head out of town. I’m convinced that the company isn’t taking a hit from locals who vow never to patronize MGM again as a result of having to pay to park.

To critics of the parking policy, it doesn’t matter how successful the company is here and worldwide.

All that matters is what will happen Dec. 29.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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