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CityCenter: ‘sustainable’ seen as key

Last year, the CityCenter complex, a joint venture by MGM Resorts International and Dubai World, was supposed to reinvigorate the gaming industry along the Strip.

The $8.5 billion project opened as planned in December, but it has done little to bolster casino business locally. What CityCenter executives are arguing, instead, is that the project was designed to be the "game-changer" in resort development.

"We set out to make CityCenter different," said Paul Berry, vice president of hotel operations for Aria. "It’s all about art, architecture and design. We were building something different — changing what Las Vegas was used to."

Berry described Aria and CityCenter as the largest sustainable development ever constructed. The 18-million-square-foot complex includes the Vdara, Crystals mall, Veer Towers, Mandarin Oriental and Aria.

The project also includes the unfinished 27-story Harmon Hotel, which was intended to be a 47-story hotel-condo project. Work was stopped on the building after improperly placed reinforcement bars were discovered.

"Sustainability is becoming more important to our guests," Berry said during a panel discussion Tuesday at the Global Gaming Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center. "Convention attendees want to come to a place that’s sustainable."

JF Finn III, a project executive and principal with Gensler, and John Restrepo, principal with Restrepo Consulting Group LLC, joined Berry on the panel moderated by David G. Schwartz, director for UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.

Berry said what sets the project apart is as simple as the hotel’s limousines being fueled by compressed natural gas. He said the complex generated most of its electricity and used the waste-heat captured from that generation to heat the water throughout the development.

"CityCenter also represents the urbanization of Las Vegas," he said. A glass-and-steel high-rise is more at home in New York or Los Angeles than in Las Vegas.

Finn agreed, saying CityCenter represents a more vertical, urban style project than what has traditionally been built along the Strip.

"While it’s interesting to look at what we’ve created, it doesn’t count unless the public comes in and enjoys the buildings," said Berry, who added the project opened on time in the middle of a recession.

Yet there are concerns about the project’s economic viability.

"MGM is a publicly traded company and needs a return on its investment," said Restrepo. "But it also needs the nation to recover. All of Las Vegas needs a national economic recovery."

He expected the economy in Southern Nevada to get better in 2011, but not to the point where consumers believe their balance sheets would allow them to return to the spending levels of a few years ago.

Berry said he was confident about the project’s long-term viability. But he believed that the "health of Las Vegas was tied to the resort industry, while the resort industry was dependent on a more diversified economy."

Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at csieroty@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893.

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