Countdown to the Cosmo

With a glut of rooms and relative dearth of visitors, the last thing Las Vegas needs might be another luxury hotel-casino. But the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, about 90 days away from its Dec. 15 opening, is promising something different.

It hasn’t been easy for the Cosmopolitan. When ground was broken in October 2005, it was one of a crop of planned casinos that were going to re-make Las Vegas. The Palazzo, Encore and Aria opened, but Boyd Gaming pulled the plug on Echelon in 2008, and the Fontainebleau’s post-bankruptcy owner, Carl Icahn, has no announced plans to resume construction on the partially built casino.

Then there’s the Cosmopolitan. After the project’s original owners defaulted on a Deutsche Bank loan, the bank bought the hotel and decided to finish construction and run the casino itself, via its own management team.

John Unwin, who has 30 years’ experience in the hotel business, including five years at Caesars Palace, helms that team as CEO. Down economy or not, he’s up for a challenge.

“It’s all very exciting!” Unwin says. “I’ve been practicing for this opportunity my entire career. We’re building a resort on the 50-yard line of the Strip and bringing retail and restaurants that are new to Vegas.”

At a time when most prognosticators see little but gloom (and not without reason), his optimism is refreshing. But last year, another casino project, MGM Resorts’ CityCenter, was similarly upbeat. For the time being, it has failed to turn around the gaming economy. Will the Cosmopolitan be different? Right now, it’s impossible to say, but much of what we know already bears out Unwin’s optimism that the Cosmo will bring something new to the Strip.

It has finalized its restaurant lineup, which will include a few names that haven’t been seen in Las Vegas yet: renowned Athens/Manhattan/ Montreal Greek fish restaurant Estiatorio Milos, Spanish small-plates pioneer Jose Andres’ Mexican/Chinese concept China Poblano (as well as a Vegas outpost of his Washington, D.C. Jaleo), Comme Ça from Los Angeles-based chef David Myers, and Scarpetta, a modern Italian eatery from Scott Conant.

Bringing these accomplished, new-to-Las Vegas chefs to town is just part of what Unwin hopes will set this casino apart. Unlike many luxury properties on the Strip, which are pushed back from the street (making wonders like Bellagio’s lake possible), the Cosmopolitan is easily accessible to passers-by. While no one complained about The Mirage or Wynn’s setback hurting those resorts (to say nothing of Caesars Palace back in 1966), Cosmopolitan’s neighbor, Aria, has been roundly criticized for just this, and it makes sense that, if it’s easier to get to, the new casino will benefit from the robust South Strip pedestrian traffic.

Those who stay at the hotel, Unwin says, will also notice a difference. An outgrowth of the heavily condo mix the property had at its inception, the guestrooms feature ample living space and private terraces, a rarity among Las Vegas casinos. Unlike the balconies at MGM Grand’s Signature, these outdoor spaces directly overlook the Strip.

With less than three months to go, it’s crunch time for Unwin and his team. Thanks to an ample PR effort (the casino’s Twitter account is already averaging more than six Tweets a day, and Unwin has his own occasionally gnomic feed as well), the word is getting out. But there’s still heavy lifting to be done.

As we go to press, just about half of the casino’s slot machines are in place. A majority of the hotel’s suites are finished, furnished and fully functional. The restaurant spaces, retail area and nightclub are still being built out.

The resort, which plans to hire more than 4,000 employees before opening day, is being deluged with applications—more than 500 job-seekers come through its talent center each day. And the Cosmopolitan is still looking. (Those interested in working at the Strip’s newest casino are encouraged to apply online via its website,, or in person.) That’s welcome news in an economy that’s absorbed a long string of layoffs.

As the opening gets nearer, we’ll learn more about the resort, including its retail tenants. But until then, we’ll just have to wait—or follow John Unwin on Twitter.