What is Area15?
Marketing for the massive black structure just off Interstate 15 near Desert Inn Road has been pointedly mysterious, opting to designate what it is not, rather than what it is.
Its descriptors of “Not a museum,” “Not a car dealership” and “Not a Skyquarium” will be retired at 6 p.m. Thursday, when the experiential entertainment and retail complex finally opens and invites guests to see what it is for themselves.
At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has largely brought the Las Vegas arts community to a standstill, the September opening of Area15 represents a bright spot — one that is illuminated with black lights, 3D projections and ultraviolet paint.
“It’s changed some of what we’ve had to offer. Not good or bad. But because of regulations that we have to take seriously,” says Winston Fisher, CEO of Area15. “When people walk in here, it’s an escape. You can forget about some of this stuff going on and get back to some wonder and awe.”
For those who reserved a free ticket to the opening, the experience will begin in the parking lot, where visitors will park near a defunct airplane, an expansive mural or the sculptures that compose the Art Island.
After entering the building, guests will find themselves face to face with a 12-foot-tall skull, whose appearance pulses with the music to constantly transform into mosaics of patterns and colors.
Beyond the skull is the Spine, the vaporwave purple and neon green corridor of the 200,000-square-foot building and home to several of Area15’s experimental, artistic and otherworldly offerings.
At Thursday night’s opening, guests will be invited to explore the Spine and peruse artworks such as a kinetic art car by Las Vegas artist Henry Chang, the glowing leaves of the tree in the center of the Oddwood bar and the volcano-shaped Sanctuary, which is upheld by bamboo and offers plush seating surrounded by fountains and plants.
In the Portal event space, guests will find a room that transforms from four bare walls to a mystical jungle and again to a 20-minute projection show. Outside, the A-Lot event space offers dining beneath an impossibly large disco ball.
Boston-based Emack & Bolios serves ice cream and Wild Muse Boutique sells wellness products, branded merchandise and festival wear.
Guests looking for a bird’s-eye view of Area15 can hop on the Haley’s Comet glider-ride around the complex’s ceiling.
And those looking for a more literal bird’s-eye view can take a spin above New York or Singapore with the Birdly VR experience.
Area15 was slated to open in December, but a still-growing list of ideas and additions pushed the date back.
The emergence of the pandemic meant Fisher and Michael Beneville, chief creative officer, have had to rethink the execution of some of the space’s offerings and postpone the grand opening party, which had been hyped to be one of the biggest blowouts of the year.
“We always said we’re a platform,” says Fisher. “The outdoor event space is meant for big dinners and concerts. But we can turn it into a safe place to do social distancing and enjoy dinner and maybe do viewing parties. The Portal again is meant for big dinners and concerts. But now we have this incredible technology to create a safe, artistic, immersive experience.”
Fisher says that, under Gov. Steve Sisolak’s current statewide mandates, some experiences, like the Oddwood bar and the Sanctuary, need to open as restaurants in order to operate.
“This is meant to be a place where you have people standing and sitting at the bar,” says Fisher, sitting at an illuminated hightop table beneath the flickering rainbow leaves of the Oddwood tree. “That will be the experience, ultimately. But you can sit at a table and eat dinner and have a drink and it’s still a nice place to be.”
While Area15 will eventually have a capacity of around 7,000 when all the tenants have opened, capacity is currently capped at 750 per day to make room for social distancing.
“And we’re really interested to see who those 10 percent of people are going to be,” says Beneville. “They’re the ones who are most curious. They’re the ones who want to come and discover with us and they’re the ones who are going to inspire the next beats of how we develop the space. What do people come to? What do they want to take pictures of? What do they see? What do they experience?”
Throughout late 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, about a dozen more experiences will open, including:
■ Wink World: Portals to the Infinite, a mirror room experience by Chris Wink, co-founder of Blue Man Group.
■ Lost Spirits Distillery, an amusement park-inspired distillery that will house a small restaurant, whiskey and rum tastings, boat rides, under-the-sea train rides and holograms.
■ Omega Mart, the 52,000-square-foot grocery store and choose-your-own-adventure walk-through by art collective Meow Wolf.
■ Dueling Axes, an indoor axe-throwing lounge.
If you go
■ Where: 3215 South Rancho Drive
■ Tickets: Prospective guests must reserve a free ticket at area15.com for a specific day and time in order to enter. Masks are required.
■ Emporium, a massive arcade bar and event venue.
■ Museum Fiasco, an immersive installation of light and sound that pulses to life with waves of light and spatialized audio.
■ Particle Quest, an interactive AR experience to the secret backstory lurking just beneath the surface of Area15.
■ Rocket Fizz, a new twist on an old-fashioned soda pop and candy shop.
■ Intel Innovation Hub, a flexible platform where Intel innovation will play an integral role.