The man on the red scooter weaved through the adulation and the architecture in near anonymity Tuesday morning at Vdara.
At 89, Mel Wolzinger sometimes uses the electric cart to get around. At CityCenter, where you can wear out a pair of shoes in a day, that makes Wolzinger the wisest man on the property. MGM Mirage is opening CityCenter in stages. Tuesday was the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Vdara, which the company calls “an all-suite boutique hotel with a sophisticated international flair that appeals to guests who love the energy and excitement of Las Vegas, but who choose to experience it in an exclusive non-gaming, non-smoking environment.”
Boutique? Vdara is a 57-story, 1,500-room property. It is to boutique hotels what Dolly Parton is to petite women.
If a place can be lavishly understated, Vdara is that. It has abundant artwork and intriguing architectural lines, but no smoking or gambling. It’s essentially a Las Vegas hotel for people who don’t like Las Vegas.
It’s breathtaking. It exudes so much class guys like me can barely breathe.
If ever there was a Vegas guy who would understand, it’s Wolzinger. He built an empire from slot and vending machine routes and Ernie’s Bar and other joints where the jingle of slots filled the smoky air.
After most of a remarkable lifetime spent in the valley, Wolzinger has watched Las Vegas grow from neon-lit cowtown to megaresort metropolis. On Tuesday he found himself zipping around Vdara — and loving it.
At Wolzinger’s side hustling to keep up was Kenny Guinn, the popular former Nevada governor. The 73-year-old Guinn is a kid with a mere four-plus decades of residency. Both are members of the MGM Mirage board of directors.
I decide not to ask why Vdara appears to be missing a vowel and skip to the tough stuff. It turns out each man recalls moments they weren’t sure CityCenter would be finished in its present form.
Was Wolzinger skeptical?
“Twenty-five years ago, if somebody came to us with this, we would have shot ’em,” Wolzinger says. “When they first brought it to the board, everyone was skeptical. But it’s unbelievable. Everything that Bobby Baldwin said he’d do, he did. I’m glad we did it. It will be a good thing for the city. It will put a lot of people to work. And just look at the workmanship.”
He points to the marble floors and design lines that make it anything but an ordinary Vegas addition. Then he points to a section of the lobby.
“All the places I owned could fit in this spot,” Wolzinger says. “Ernie’s, the Lift … throw in my house, too. Years ago, if the space didn’t generate a profit, it was no good.”
The space, and the environment created within it, is the whole point, MGM Mirage Chairman and CEO Jim Murren said a few minutes before opening Vdara’s doors. For old-school Vegas guys, learning to appreciate a soothing, smoke-free space may take time.
Wolzinger, the old-school guy who never stopped learning, marvels at the minds of Murren, CityCenter CEO Baldwin and the rest. Guinn, who knows a thing or two about budgets, planning, and tumultuous economic forecasts, says the strategic plans were adjusted on the fly.
Rising costs, construction-site tragedy and ineptitude at the Harmon Hotel challenged the grand plan, but Guinn says the timetable never varied.
“Certainly no one could project or foresee this economy. I truly believe this will be the foundation for a new starting point for Nevada, especially for Southern Nevada and Las Vegas. As goes Las Vegas, so goes Nevada.”
But the recession proved times change even in Las Vegas.
“Those were good days,” Wolzinger says, “and these days are better.”
Wise men will take his word for it.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.