Las Vegas rolls the dice on CityCenter

Talk about placing big bets.

It took a team of investors, architects, designers, art collectors, luxury buyers and acrobats to strike gold on this deal, but the gamble paid out. The city-within-a-city concept, aptly named CityCenter, debuted this week in Las Vegas and it was nothing short of extraordinary.

The “community” center in Las Vegas features five hotels/resorts inside a shopping center filled with luxury retail shops and surrounded by a fine art collection from international artists. The ARIA Resort & Casino was the CityCenter’s first official opening, met with fireworks and fanfare. The ARIA is the first of many attractions opening at CityCenter over the next few months — three hotels, one residential living facility and and retail and entertainment district will welcome guests to these lavish digs.

Here’s the lay of the land:

The 18-million-square-feet (68-acre) project was developed by MGM MIRAGE in partnership with Infinity World Development Corp and is said to be the most expensive privately funded construction project in U.S. history. It sits on the Las Vegas Strip between Frank Sinatra Drive and Las Vegas Boulevard. The $11+-billion project will open in two phases – the first phase is located between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo; the second phase will take the space between Monte Carlo and New York New York. The CityCenter is, for all intense and purposes, a small city complete with hotels, residences, shopping, dining, a fire station and its own power-plant. It’s the first ‘city’ to receive LEED® Gold certifications for its buildings by the by the U.S. Green Building Council.The focal point of the city is the 4,004-room ARIA Hotel & Resort, which opened earlier this week. The ARIA features a a spa, 16 restaurants, 10 bars, three pools (including one adults-only pool) and entertainment featuring Viva ELVIS™ by Cirque du Soleil®.

“ARIA and CityCenter reflect a combination of innovation, energy and visionary design that we believe will reshape how the world views the destination resort experience and attract visitors from around the globe as a landmark of taste and style,” said Jim Murren, Chairman and CEO of MGM MIRAGE.

The additional hotels include:

The Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas: Non-gaming hotel with 392 guestrooms and 225 residences; resort spa; 6 restaurants and the 23rd floor Sky Lobby.
Vdara: Non-gaming, smoke-free hotel featuring 1,495 suites, a full-service wellness spa, salon and fitness center, and the Sky Pool & Lounge.
Veer Towers: Two 37-story glass towers with more than 300 residences in modern, loft-like designs. Studios, one, two and three bedroom apartments and penthouses are available ranging from 500- to 3,000-square-feet.
The Harmon Hotel: Set to open in late-2010, the non-gaming hotel will have 400 guestrooms and suites, a MR CHOW restaurant, hair Salon by Frédéric Fekkai and 24/7 butler service.

In the middle of it all is Crystals, the the 500,000-square-foot retail and entertainment shopping district. Luxury brands including Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Bulgari, Carolina Herrera, and restaurant options from Wolfgang Puck, Eva Longoria Parker, and Todd English will welcome guests. Throughout the city’s public space will be fine art displays from some renowned sculpture artists, including Maya Lin, Jenny Holzer, Claes Oldenburg, Coosje Van Bruggen, Nancy Rubins, Frank Stella, Henry Moore, and Richard Long.

The MGM-MIRAGE CityCenter is nothing short of extraordinary. As Nevada comes off a year plagued with 13% unemployment and a significant drop in tourism, the CityCenter complex aims to bring back the sensationalistic, sultry decadence recently lost somewhere along the Las Vegas Strip. While it’s easy to drop a small fortune in the ‘city,’ don’t despair – after all, this is Vegas and absolutely anything can happen.

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images