With Resorts World, Macau Comes to Vegas

When Resorts World Las Vegas rises from the abandoned husk of Echelon Place on the north Strip, it will be very different from what Echelon would have been. And the differences tell us a lot about where Las Vegas has gone in the six years since the property’s 2007 groundbreaking.

When originally announced, Echelon was going to fit seamlessly into the city’s megaresort future. It bucked one mid-decade trend, with no initially planned condo component, but otherwise fit into the bigger-is-better zeitgeist: an 87-acre development with five hotels (Hotel Echelon, Suites at Echelon, Shangri-La, and Delano and Mondrian Las Vegas, the last two managed by Morgans Hotel Group); a 140,000-square-foot casino; 750,000 square feet of meeting and convention space; and a retail promenade managed by General Growth Properties, owners of the Fashion Show and the Grand Canal Shoppes.

It was perfectly calibrated to mid-2000s Las Vegas. Convention bookings were booming, so it was designed to have the Strip’s fourth-largest meeting space. Room rates were rising, and the appetite for luxury seemed boundless, so Shangri-La was a natural fit. But today, with convention attendance 21 percent below its 2007 high and room rates about 18 percent lower than their peak, it’s clear that, had Echelon been built, it would have been a fish out of water in post-recession Las Vegas.

So, how has Resorts World changed the game plan?

It starts with the theme. Echelon was the epitome of themeless Vegas, while Resorts World is not shy about its Asian origins, which go far beyond the proposed panda exhibit: The Strip-front land will be taken up by a “village” of low-rise pagodas housing theaters, restaurants and retail, and architect Paul Steelman describes the project’s overall design as “East meets West … Old Asia meets New Asia,” with various attractions and an appeal to families. (How very un-2007!)

The pagoda village replaces a more traditional Strip-front porte cochere, with auto access shuffled to the north side, directly under the largest hotel tower on property. Is this taking a cue from Steve Wynn’s revamp of Encore, which saw the artful Strip-facing drive-up replaced by the revenue-producing Encore Beach Club? Or is it for families that don’t want to cross the casino to get to their rooms?

The casino was announced at 175,000 square feet, which would make it the largest in town, but Steelman says that’s a “conceptual number,” with the actual size somewhere between that (about the same as the MGM Grand) and Wynn Las Vegas’s 108,000 square feet. It will likely have many elements associated with Macau casinos, such as stadium gaming and discrete high-roller areas. Macau’s influence is everywhere in the project. (Steelman has designed six casinos in the Chinese casino enclave, including the Galaxy Macau, a multi-tower resort with a range of entertainment amenities from a Scottish Highlands-inspired whiskey bar to a nine-screen 3-D Cineplex.)

Resorts World has less convention space than Echelon planned—though at 500,000 square feet, it’s still one of the Strip’s biggest—and less overall retail space. Instead, it has a water park on the roof of the low-rise podium structure, reminiscent of Galaxy’s rooftop wave pool. By 2016, you could be riding a lazy river right on the Las Vegas Strip.

For some, that recalls Wet ’n Wild, the Strip water park that closed in 2004. But it’s not about nostalgia; it’s about Macau. It’s about taking an important feature of a successful resort in the world’s most successful gaming market and replicating it in Las Vegas. Think about it: Ten years ago, we thought Macau would have a great deal to learn from Las Vegas. Now, it’s clear that Las Vegas is going to be learning from Macau.

David G. Schwartz is director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Studies.

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