It didn’t take a genius to figure out that the last thing MGM Resorts was going to build was more hotel rooms; it already had plenty of them. Condos, meanwhile, didn’t pan out at CityCenter (to put it mildly), so it’s no surprise that MGM shelved its plans to build a condo tower in front of Mandalay Bay. And room renovations and improvements at existing resorts—as necessary as they are—won’t give the company the wow factor it will need to compete.
So what’s a casino mega-conglomerate to do for its next big move?
How about getting back to urban basics and creating a worthwhile street-level experience? That’s what MGM did on April 18 with the formal announcement of The Park, comprised of retail/dining development on underutilized land between New York-New York and Monte Carlo, a renovation of the Strip-front facades of both resorts and a 20,000-seat arena operated by international sports and entertainment giant AEG.
Cynics will say that MGM is just copying Caesars Entertainment’s Linq, which also features dining and retail on underutilized space between two casinos. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is whether this is a smart move—in particular because it’s the antithesis of CityCenter.
CityCenter was pitched as an urban development on the Las Vegas Strip that would remake the way people interacted with space along the Boulevard. But it had severe—and I mean severe—design flaws that made it impossible to make it truly urban and walkable.
Some people thought the CityCenter was too bold a project for Las Vegas—that visitors couldn’t handle a development that wasn’t a large Y-shaped tower.
But in truth, CityCenter was too conservative; it had too limited a vision.
Instead of master-planning just the 76 acres that ultimately became CityCenter, the real visionary move would have been to master-plan the entire span of Las Vegas Boulevard from Tropicana to Flamingo on both sides, taking into account the pieces that MGM controlled (MGM Grand, New York-New York, Monte Carlo, Bellagio and the then-underdeveloped land that is now home CityCenter), as well as the ones it didn’t (the Caesars properties, the Cosmopolitan site, Hawaiian Marketplace, etc.). In other words, the smart move for MGM would have been to figure out how to maximize the value not only of those 76 acres, but also of its other properties. Instead, CityCenter is—in both its aesthetics and its pedestrian-flow patterns—almost completely aloof from the surrounding Strip-scape.
The Park appears to be a move to do just what MGM should have done at CityCenter: use undeveloped space not just to create new revenue streams, but to enhance the value of what the company already has. With more “stuff to do” along the Monte Carlo/New York-New York Strip frontage, as well as a new retail plaza between and behind them, MGM will give visitors a reason to spend the afternoon hanging around a stretch of the Boulevard that they currently hurry past on their way to see the Bellagio fountains or back to their rooms at the south end of the Strip. Even without the arena, this would re-energize that part of the Strip, which will only help the company that owns most of the property there.
It’ll also likely have a spillover effect for both the Tropicana and MGM’s Mandalay Mile properties, which will benefit from the added attraction.
But is that good for Las Vegas? Will it just siphon visitors away from Caesars’ Linq?
I say ‘yes’ to the first question and ‘no’ to the second. If you look at the history of casinos in Las Vegas, they’ve really only thrived when they compete against each other. Going back to the neon explosion of the 1960s, progress has come when one resort builds the biggest neon sign in town, and then another tops it by 10 feet, and does something more elaborate to boot. At the end of the day, Las Vegas gets the Stardust and Dunes signs, and puts new international icons on the map.
Strip casinos have been doing this for years, with neon, pool sizes, buffets, headline entertainers, and nightclubs (but, unfortunately for serious gamblers, not table-game odds). Competition made the city a better attraction—and a better value for visitors.
During the Great Recession, thanks in part to overconcentration, Las Vegas lost some of that. Now it appears to be back.
Along with Linq and Resorts World Las Vegas, The Park will broaden the possibilities for visitors to Las Vegas, which is only going to help the city as economic uncertainty continues and the travel market becomes more competitive. That’s why The Park will likely be a positive, not just for MGM Resorts, but for the whole city.