Photo of the Day: Optical illusion in Las Vegas

Las Vegas has a way of turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. Case in point: today’s Photo of the Day taken by Flickr user Gustavo at the City Center entertainment complex. In the photo, monochrome lines and angles look more like a work of minimalist modern art than what they really are: balconies at a hotel.

Do you have your own optical illusion photographs? Upload your favorite shots to the Gadling Group Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.

New sight on the Strip: Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to open mid-December

The struggling economy in Las Vegas sent tourism officials into overdrive in 2009. The results: More hotels, more casinos and more entertainment options. The opening of Las Vegas CityCenter marked the first step in the city’s attempt to drive tourism dollars — a mini-city smack in the middle of the busiest street in the desert was sure to drive a new type of Sin City crowd. As CityCenter continues to roll the dice on the opening of new restaurants, hotels and residences, other hotel companies are placing their bets that a ‘newer’ Las Vegas will boost the ailing economy.

The newest headline on the marquee: the $3.9 billion Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, which is scheduled to open mid-December.

The new casino-resort hopes to attract more visitors to Vegas with its 13 restaurants, a spa, nightclub and 150,000 square feet of meeting space. It will feature a rooftop pool deck overlooking the Strip and a 3,800-space underground parking garage. The hotel will have a total 2,995 rooms (only partially open by December) and the decor is said to be elegant and, well, cosmopolitan. Each room at the Cosmopolitan has its own terrace and, for the thrill-seeker, a 40th-floor open-air balcony overlooking the Strip. While the scene is likely breathtaking, it’s not for the faint of heart. (A steel-enforced railing bar keeps you about two feet from the terraces’ edge.)

The purpose: to drive a newer, more modern clientele to the famous Strip. The problem: the city’s declining tourism rates.

According to the Department of Transportation statistics, Las Vegas still has a lot of catching up to do. In 2009, the city’s hotel rooms garnered 22 percent less per night than in 2008 – a steal for travelers; a black hole for the books. However, the billions of dollars poured into these new hotels and resort complexes are meant to inspire a new type of traveler looking for more than $5 bets and winning slot machines.

Cosmopolitan Chief Executive Officer John Unwin, a former Caesars Palace general manager, told the Associated Press the resort’s construction is fully funded and plans are firm to have all of Cosmopolitan’s rooms open by July 2011.

Aria: Inside of City Center’s new luxury hotel

The hottest new development in Las Vegas, City Center, is in the midst of a rolling opening this year, a sprawling glass and steel complex in the heart of the south strip. Among the most recent additions is Aria, an MGM hotel and casino billed as chic luxury. Gadling stopped by for a look last month.

In 2010, we’re at the point in hotel design where oversight is just not made. Rooms, environments and features – especially at an MGM property — are all engineered to suit a target demographic, and any missing or superfluous facet is as such for a reason. Aria’s rooms and hotel strike me as perfectly engineered for my friend Bruce’s mom.

The rooms, to start, are gorgeous, well appointed (and stocked,) clean, wood and white, with very tasteful art, floor to ceiling windows, automatic curtains and enough digital gadgetry to make any technophile dance with glee. Perhaps the best part of the room is the digital control that rests on the nightstand between the beds, a touch screen from where lights, curtains, music and television can be coordinated.

It is a handy but clumsy and slow interface, with frequent delays in response, breaks in communication and the occasional curse word. One accustomed to the speed of an iPod touch or iPhone, for example, might feel frustrated at the speed of the interface, while those less familiar with the technology will likely be more patient. That said, its novelty is outstanding, and once calibrated to its idiosyncrasies, most users should be happy.

A connectivity panel further enhances the multimedia capability of the room, with space to plug in HDMI, RCA, mini-jacks and to also charge USB devices. Once connected, it’s reported that external devices can be controlled through the bedside touch panel, though we were unable to locate cables to connect our iPhone.

And speaking of iPhones, AT&T reception at City Center is atrocious. Whether this is by design or because there is too much bandwidth strain in the area is unclear, but it’s something to keep in mind in case you have an important call to make.

Inside of the sprawling first-floor casino, trademarks of the standard MGM properties are apparent, a semicircular floor with satellite drinking and entertainment establishments scattered about, clean, well integrated design and generally smooth flow. Pursuant to their apparent targeted demographic, a steady, mid volume stream of adult contemporary music is pumped through the public areas (of note, Sarah McLachlan, Shawn Colvin, Rob Thomas,) enough to get a mid-life pair of vacationers in the mood for white wine or maybe make a teenager cry. And though we were unable to participate in much of the food, drink and nightlife options, the $24 morning buffet was delicious, well attended and refreshing, with rays of sun reflecting in from an adjacent courtyard.

It is these glimpses of sunlight that are perhaps my favorite part of the Aria Hotel and City Center in general, a real contrast to much of the Las Vegas architecture of the 90’s. With numerous angles, glass and mirrors, the entire campus seems to glow with energy, from the luxury mall on one shoulder to the well appointed (free) art gallery on the other. For these reasons its at least worth walking through the complex to absorb the grandeur.

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

CityCenter Las Vegas time lapse video

After more than three years of construction, and an estimated $8.5-billion budget, CityCenter — Las Vegas’s newest money pit — opened for business yesterday. Three years isn’t that long, really, when you consider the size of the Strip’s largest project to date. At nearly 17-million square feet spread across 76 acres, this city-within-a-city boasts thousands upon thousands of rooms spread across nearly a half-dozen hotels, multiple casinos, countless restaurants, entertainment and retail districts, residential condos, and the Strip’s first grocery store.

And now you can watch it all come together in the Las Vegas Sun’s timlepase video above. They make it seem so easy!