The new CityCenter in Las Vegas is up and running. It takes up 76 acres of the Strip, includes six buildings totaling 2400 condos and 4800 rooms, cost $11 billion dollars and six human lives to complete, and the end result is absolute shit.
Just the name makes you want to gamble.
You don't need to say more than that. Las Vegas, Nevada is the epicenter of every wild story in the United States that's set between the Mississippi River and the California border. It is the final bastion of political incorrectness in this country, where street people pass out flyers for hookers to small children and fatass smokers drink in public while lounging by the pool without sunscreen. If you go to Las Vegas and come home without an interesting story to tell you've done something wrong. It doesn't even matter what the story is - losing money, getting wasted, an ill-fated run-in with a call-girl - the only way to improve wacky hijinks set in Vegas is via the addition of Zach Galifianakis.
Shown here being awesome.
Yet there is a new addition to the Las Vegas strip, and that is the CityCenter. Touted as a mix of high-class luxury resort and actually living space right on Las Vegas Blvd, the LVCC was intended to be a work of art, with the backers going so far as to hire teams of artists to design every aspect from casino to bathroom. There are six structure: the Aria, a resort/casino; Crystals, retail and entertainment (re: mall); Harmon Hotel, a boutique hotel sans gaming; Mandarin Oriental, a luxury hotel exploiting Asian culture; Vdara, a hotel/condo tower exploiting concave exteriors; and Veer Towers, twin condos built to look like they are falling over on one another.
CityCenter is not just huge. It is fucking huge. Almost 17 million square feet, in fact, comparable only to the size of Bruce Willis' nutsack. It takes up everything on the Strip between the Bellagio and the Monte Carlo, which means if you want to get from one side of the Strip to the other (say, Mandalay Bay to the Sky Needle) you spend almost a quarter your journey going past this monstrosity.
Seriously. It's a bit of a trek.
If you actually pay the fee to go to the top of the fake Eiffle Tower at the Paris, the LVCC takes up an entire quadrant of the view. It is so large it has its own fire station and its own monorail stop, which is something most of the casinos space between two to share. In fact, the CityCenter is so imposing that even spaces and hyphens dare not intrude upon its majesty.
You'd think somewhere in all that they would have gotten something right.
But no. They've already announced plans to demolish one of the buildings before they've even finished building others, and the project is losing money so fast that even the slots of Las Vegas require Dubai backing.
Here's several reasons (five) why you should avoid the CityCenter:
I mentioned that it was designed by artists. And, true to form, art abounds. LVCC boasts one of the largest art collections in the United States, and the Mandarin has several public galleries showing the latest and greatest in the art community.
The art is everywhere, epitomized by a sculpture of a giant paint brush as you drive into the Aria dropoff. The style is generally that sort of art that was popular in the seventies when people left museums thinking my kid could do that, an eclectic combination of modernist/post-modernist with a minimalist slant that makes the interior all look a bit like the inside of Frasier Crane's brain.
Exactly like that.
But while you may want artists to decorate buildings, you know who want to design a building? Architects. Real architects, who make bridges and skyscrapers. Not the people who dropped out of architecture classes because drawing with a ruler didn't let them express themselves creatively.
You know she's a real architect because she's wearing a helmet!
The CityCenter has so many structural flaws that I'm surprised Luke Skywalker and Red Squadron didn't try to fly X-fighters down its coolant shaft. Harmon Hotels alone is so fubar that they figured it was cheaper to just blow the shit up than try to fix them, and that was AFTER they'd redesigned it from 49 stories down to 28 after discovering that it would more or less collapse on its own if they went any higher.
Not to mention the wind. Las Vegas is a desert, which means wind is sort of a big deal to account for. Yet the curved design of the Aria is right at the tip of the eight-lane dropoff, so it acts like an enormous catcher's mitt for wind. Assuming, that is, that the catcher is an eight year old in little league so the ball immediately drops out of the mitt and rolls right down in front of it. The layout turns the entire area into an enormous wind funnel, the desert air vibrating through it at just the right frequency to routinely crack the large glass panes and produce a constant, unearthly keening sound somewhat analogous to that of ghosts getting raped in their spectral assholes.
Photo provided courtesy of Rule #34.
The structures are so badly designed that in 2008 the workers WALKED OFF THE JOB because they felt it was unsafe for them to continue working there. Keep in mind, this was in Las Vegas; if you want unions that are more corrupt you have to go to Chicago or else outsource to South American dictatorships. Hell, Nevada doesn't even have state or local laws prohibiting workers who have consumed alcohol from going to work on a construction site. And THEY thought it was too unsafe.
When you're inside the structure it's no better function-wise, because half the art installations are kinetic, which means they move, which means - as you know if you're an engineer and not an art major - that they need constant upkeep or they stop working.
The Las Vegas CityCenter is not only supposed to be a resort and casino, but the first place on the Strip for people to live.
Besides putting up a tent and pretending to wait in line for tickets to Celine Dion.
Good luck with that.
Despite initial designs to make the place actually habitable, there is, for instance, no grocery store. That is sort of a big deal when the nearest place to get food is a 24-hour Walgreens where a 20 oz. bottle of Diet Coke costs $3.89. And while, yes, you could go outside the place to get your groceries, keep in mind that at 31 hectares just on the ground level, LVCC is larger than most of the towns within fifty miles of Las Vegas.
In fact, there is no practical business of any kind. The entire complex is 18 million square feet top to bottom, which equals about six Empire State Buildings. Much of this includes office space as well as overpriced shopping, but nothing so simple as a pharmacy, a bakery, a video rental, or a place to buy laundry detergent, let alone a market combining all these things.
You even gotta go off-premise for the smut!
There is also no convenient foot traffic. If they're encouraging people to live in these buildings you would think they would at least provide easy footpaths for them, even if it was on a different level from the tourists. Or at least the very least design the layout of these structures so you did not actually have to go outdoors to get from, say, Aria to Crystals (which would require an enclosure extending a whole thirty or so feet). Even if Harmon was open there is no way for pedestrians to get to it from Crystals, and certainly no way to get from Harmon directly to Aria. All this despite the fact that the all three of these buildings fucking touch! Every other casino along the Strip realized that it was a good marketing idea to put their doors close together; big, automatic doors offering cool, refreshing air conditioning away from the blistering heat of the Vegas sun, with shiny lights and pretty sounds beckoning enticingly behind them. Yet LVCC does not. There is no convenient way to get from one part to another, and while all casinos are intentionally winding and confusing to discourage your egress, they should not be so confusing that you feel luckier to escape with your life than Indiana Jones in a Mayan pyramid.
"I don't know if we want to pay for a dimension we're not going to use."
All these buildings were constructed by the same investors at the same time; there should be a way to get from the Aria to the Veer towers without being required to go outside. The design almost encourages you to just skip it, cross the street, and traipse through the Miracle Mile instead.
If you don't feel like trooping in and out of three different buildings to get to your car, there is a monorail stop which costs $10 per ride and can hold about as many people as a double-length bus. The whole block has a pedestrian crosswalk on either end of the Strip and nothing in between, so if you walk to your job you'd better not try coming from Harmon Street.
CityCenter was built by MGM Mirage, but backed by Dubai World. Dubai, for those who don't know, is the Mecca for people with so much money that they use it for toilet paper. Dubai is where people buy private islands made in the shape of things, a trait heretofore reserved for super-villains awaiting a visit from James Bond.
"Do you expect me to be impressed by your palm tree-shaped island?" "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!"
This mindset is reflected in the pricing scheme. CityCenter got its green light before the housing bubble burst, and the idea of paying a million dollars for a view that included a neon light advertising "Girls Girls Girls" didn't seem entirely quixotic.
Zipping by the websites, we find the cost of a single, one-bedroom condo in the Mandarin Oriental starts at $300,000 - more than a small two-bedroom house in even the lousy parts of California - and they are not available. In fact, nothing between $300K and $750K are. At the $750K-$1M mark you get a suite that is roughly the square-footage of a single-wide mobile home. In the Veer Towers they're even smaller, where $500K nets you around 775 square feet, which is laughable even in New York City, where people willingly share closets with cockroaches if the place is rent-controlled.
If you ever do move in, you certainly can't afford to leave. A year ago the MGM stock went from $88 a share to $3. Early-adopters are willing to take a major hit to get out, taking tens of thousands of dollars in loss or even letting banks foreclose entirely.
Pictured above: actual value of equity
But if that's not a problem and you like the convenient location and shopping, if you want to do any shopping in the stores be prepared to bring a platinum card. Even in Vegas, where the bums will berate you for giving anything less than a fiver, everything is insanely expensive and all geared towards luxury items. Grand if you require Versachi in your day-to-day life, but good luck finding a school backpack or a pair of Converse hi-tops.
You probably heard this one (hell, probably on this website) and it's true: the curved shape to the Vdara acts like a giant reflector dish to the pool right below it. It reflects and focuses the hot, hot rays of the sun down onto the pool area, resulting in heavy sunburns, as well as contact burns from heated metal. So far this has resulted in several cases of second and third degree burns as well as two instances of spontaneous combustion and Robert Pattinson sparkling so much during his stay that viewers were temporarily blinded in his presence (citation needed). The solar convergence gets it hot enough to melt the plastic on the flip flops of civilians retreating from what has been termed "the Vdara Death Ray."
"No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to...No, wait, we did that bit already."
And that's the least of the problems.
We already mentioned that the Harmon Hotel was shut down before it even finished construction. It was so dangerously, ineptly designed that even its blueprints cause paper cuts. You don't even have to pick the damned things up first.
The CityCenter was designed in part to refocus the center of the Strip. It does live up to this promise, at least in traffic patterns.
There's also the inevitable Post-Traumatic Stress for visiting New Yorkers. The Veer towers are designed to slant five degrees in either direction. Now, I don't know what insensitive genius decided to put twin towers that look like they're collapsing two blocks away from the New York, New York, but I can't be the only person who picked that out.
You remember this? It was sort of a big deal a little while back there. Now compare:
I'm not trying to be funny. This pisses me off.
Also, the Aria's Control4 automation system keeps disturbingly exact notes on all its guests. It monitors energy usage, recalls a guest's preferences in regards to temperature, lighting, and window coverings, and greets guests by name. First, in a place that charges you for looking at the beverage bar, in a year or two they are almost certainly going to hit your with fees for using too much air conditioning. Secondly, with this level of complexity, clearly it is only a matter of time before the Control4 system develops intelligence - inevitably of the malevolent variety, it should go without saying - and starts initiating a series of lethal "accidents" to hotel guests until it gets picked up by the military and installed in Project: Skynet.
The new face of Las Vegas
Do you know what New York, New York, Paris, Harrahs, MGM, Mandalay Bay, the Venitian, Caesar's Palace, the Bellagio, Monte Carlo, Excalibur, Tropicana, Sahara, the Mirage, the Luxor, Hard Rock, the Palazzo, and even goddamned Circus Circus have in common?
Granted, half of them are themes about Italy, but a theme nonetheless.
All cities have personalities, and Vegas' is that retarded kid who wet himself in front of class to get attention. It has more personality than Sybil: every building is a whole different venue. Vegas has no shame and makes no apologies; it as much as says so in the slogan. Vegas is vulgar, it is crass, it is over the top, and if you want to stand out there as the new guy you need to do all that better than anyone anywhere else. Vegas is so outrageous that it is actually hard to make people stand up and take note of a new casino. When Sarno opened Caesar's Palace back in '65, the only unique thing about it was some columns and plaster statues on the facade and waitresses dressed in Greek robes, but nowadays you could make a Meet Dave-themed casino shaped like Eddie Murphy's head and it would raise only a few eyebrows.
It could draw the morbid curiosity crowd.
But while a bad economy and recession have made some people wary about plunking down casinos like you're trying to boost your profit and crime rate in SimCity, CityCenter proves that the way to go is not by foregoing a theme altogether.
Yeah, it's...kind interesting...I guess... What's the point again?
CityCenter is a design by consensus. They got hundreds of artists working on it. But you don't get anything unique in a consensus. There's no individuality, no quirks, and certainly no genius. In fact, my single biggest complaint (of many) when touring LVCC was simply this single, unforgivable sin:
Pictured above: the LVCC theme
The structures may be unique, but within Las Vegas they're just small and uninteresting. The art may be great but left on its own it's just background. The cafe in Crystals delineated by wooden branches just looks cheap. The towering wooden shapes in Aria's lobby might be more impressive if they weren't covered in wood laminate. The flashing starscape of lights across the front of Louis Viton was about as impressive as the bridge on the original Enterprise. Mandarin hassome theme, if you extend the term to mean "room decorated with a Buddha statue"; frankly the Imperial does Asian design better, plus they got celebrity impersonators on the blackjack tables.
Really, everywhere does something better. You want luxury? Stay at Mandalay Bay; they've got elegance plus a pool with a beach and wave machine. You want art? There are galleries in every shopping plaza, and the Venetian is covered in Renaissance art. You want a central location? Planet Hollywood across the street also has blackjack dealers who wear tight red corsets. You want to live near a casino? You can rent a hotel room for less, and sure it's a shitty hotel room, but if you want to live near a casino in the first place you are not there for the glamor. And if you do want glamor? The Bellagio or Monte Carlo are both very high end and located conveniently on either side of this behemoth.
The Las Vegas CityCenter is there. But in the end, that's really all that can be said of it.
I mean, it's not hard to make a casino. They all offer the same games nowadays, they even mix and match the slot machines, and every third spot in any stretch of stores is either a souveignier shop/ABC store or an overpriced designer store like Shoooz. All you need for draw is lots of money to start and some overriding theme to tie it all together. Here are eight ideas for casinos I had just while writing this article:
-An Aztec-themed casino called El Dorado. It's so obvious I feel a little ashamed to even mention it.
-A German-themed casino called Kaiser's Palace.
-A place where you can stay for $10 a night that is basically just a mattress and a locked door, so you can focus on the reason you came to Vegas: gambling! Put it right next to a convention center for all the people who are there for the sole reason of going to the convention and you'll also clean up from the businessmen traveling coach who get their receipts reimbursed by the accounting department.
-A Sci-Fi-themed casino that would draw all the nerds who are otherwise too smart to gamble.
-Vampires are big right now so do a vampire-themed resort. Call it the Claim Stake. C'mon, that's clever, god damn it; that's a double-pun. You didn't think of it.
-Speaking of claim stakes: amazingly, in NEVADA, there's no real Wild West-themed casinos on the Strip.
-The Vegas Escape. This would be a resort right on the Strip intended as a retreat from the rest of the lights, ads, and smut of Vegas. The obligatory casino part would be hidden and dimmed. There would be no smoking, drinking, or small children allowed within the premises. All rooms would be soundproofed, and the hotel rooms start on the eighth floor. The first six floors above the casino and the shops are parking structures so that you don't have to walk half a mile to get to your car (trust me, after a weekend in Vegas, this would be a boon to anyone). Basically, I've found that if you spend more than 24 hours in Las Vegas you start to crave a few moments of quiet and clean air.
-A Las Vegas-themed casino: all the casinos on the Strip collected into one casino. It's a little meta but I think it's worth exploring.
Any of these would be better, I think, than the final result of the LVCC.
Let me think...Do I stay in a curvey building with boring art, or in a giant pyramid whose light can be seen from space?
People go to Vegas to have a good time; all a casino has to do is to facilitate this. Yet in a city where every corner is a party, this resort has made itself the kitchen where the homely girl goes to get away from the noise. Despite all the many, many problems in LVCC, the biggest by far is that there's just plain no reason to go there.
Or read his web comic.