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Grand Entrance

After 16 days of preliminaries, the main event has arrived.

Aria, the centerpiece hotel-casino of the $8.5 billion CityCenter development, will be unveiled to the public late tonight.

The masses won’t get inside the 4,004-room hotel-casino before several last-minute media events, an invitation-only high-end VIP reception and an 11 p.m. fireworks display from atop the 61-story hotel tower, just in time for the local television news broadcasts.

The public is expected to be allowed into Aria sometime before midnight.

Unlike Strip hotel openings from the past 20 years by other companies, MGM Mirage has not kept Aria, or all of CityCenter for that matter, under wraps.

Over the past month, company communications officials and CityCenter’s public relations team have conducted hundreds of media tours of the 18 million-square-foot, 67-acre complex.

On Dec. 1, the 1,500-room, nongaming Vdara opened, followed by the Crystals retail complex on Dec. 3. Two days later, the nongaming, ultraluxury Mandarin Oriental welcomed the public.

Photos and video of CityCenter’s buildings, designed by world-renown architects, and the project’s $40 million worth of public art, have been beamed around the world.

With all the images, stories, articles and blogs written and produced about CityCenter in the past several weeks, you would have to be a resident of Pluto — or at least without an Internet connection — to not know that CityCenter, the largest-ever privately financed development, was opening after five years of construction.

But Aria is the focal point.

It is the only CityCenter element with gaming and was designed to be center stage.

Even the name, Aria, signifies its stature. In music, an aria is a rising melody and the centerpiece of a performance.

"We always imagined it to be the epicenter," said Greg Jones, who led the Pelli Clark Pelli Architects design team in the development of Aria. "We wanted to make sure it was unique, not only in the design but how it interacts with the rest of CityCenter."

Instead of having a front and back entrance, Aria has two front doors, one off CityCenter Place from the Strip and another off Harmon Circle near Vdara.

What the public may not notice, Jones said, is how Aria was designed for efficiency.

CityCenter Chief Executive Officer Bobby Baldwin said Aria had to be original in its design and in what it offers to customers. He expected the hotel-casino to be compared to the neighboring Bellagio, MGM Mirage’s flagship and the company’s highest revenue-producing resort.

"We didn’t need another Bellagio or a 10-acre lake or northern Italian design architecture," Baldwin said. "We needed something that would complement Bellagio. Aria may be in the same market segment, but it’s a far different product than Bellagio."

Baldwin does not believe Aria will damage Bellagio’s profitability. He said Bellagio’s followers will remain loyal.

"CityCenter was designed, Aria in particular, to attract an entirely different group," Baldwin said. "Although in terms of affluence, they have the same type of financial backdrop, nothing in this building looks anything like what’s inside Bellagio. That was one of the keys. You can’t be different if you look the same."

Aria President Bill McBeath hopes the public will be impressed by the fabrics, design elements and colors inside the casino and other public areas.

Guests at the front desk are greeted by a glass wall that holds "Silver River," an 84-foot silver cast of the Colorado River created by artist Maya Lin using reclaimed silver.

"After all this time, I’m happy the public is finally going to be able to see it," he said.

McBeath has experience with hotel-casino openings. Twenty years ago, he was director of marketing when The Mirage, the Strip’s first new resort in more than 15 years, opened. He said that same type of excitement surrounds Aria.

"Much was written about The Mirage, but one thing for sure was the consumer was waiting for and demanding a new product," McBeath said. "After tens of billions of dollars spent in development and growth in Las Vegas since that time, the openings of CityCenter and Aria clearly have created the greatest amount of excitement and anticipation."

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871.

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