x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

CityCentre fuels hope in Las Vegas

Dubai World and partner MGM Mirage are set to open their 'city within a city' development.

The sprawling
The sprawling "city within a city" covers 27 hectares.

LAS VEGAS // When Barack Obama, the US president, attacked corporate junkets to places such as Las Vegas earlier this year, he was acknowledging public anger against the lavish behaviour of some companies that were bailed out by US taxpayers. Mr Barack's comments did little to endear him to resort owners dependent on conventioneers and tourists. Nonetheless, MGM Mirage was hoping the president might include a quick stop in Las Vegas when he heads west to Hawaii for the Christmas holiday next week to visit CityCenter, an US$8.5 billion (Dh31.22bn) complex of hotels, condominiums, shops, restaurants and gaming activities built in partnership with Dubai World. A presidential visit would give a much needed fillip to a city hit hard by recession and foreclosures and where much local hope is invested in CityCenter, which will officially open tomorrow with a big party and fireworks. The sprawling "city within a city" is so big, it covers 27 hectares, that it has already held several opening nights for its component parts, including a party for the Vdara Hotel and Spa hosted by Vanity Fair magazine and attended by celebrities include the British movie star Orlando Bloom. CityCenter is held up as the largest private development in US history and its opening comes as global investors remain wary of Dubai World and MGM Mirage given the weight of billions of dollars in debt of both companies. Just six months ago, the fate of CityCenter appeared to hang in the balance when Dubai World sued MGM Mirage, citing breach of contract and mismanagement of costs after MGM warned in its annual report that it could default on its debt and be forced to seek bankruptcy protection. MGM owes some $13bn and is rated below investment grade. The two companies resolved their dispute in May and relations appear amicable. No one can say for sure how long it will take CityCenter to reward investors with substantial profit but MGM Mirage was upbeat amid forecasts of increased convention activity in Las Vegas next year. "We're at the eve of opening up something that was unimaginable this year, that will have a profoundly positive impact on our cash flows, our cross-marketing opportunities for our other properties and on visitation to all of Las Vegas," Jim Murren, the chief executive of MGM Mirage, said recently. "I believe it couldn't happen at a better time." CityCenter was conceived about five years ago in the days of easy credit and seemingly limitless opportunities. Five "starchitects" worked on the project: Norman Foster, Daniel Libeskind, Rafael Vinoly and Helmut Jahn. Mr Jahn's Veer Towers provide the most visually startling effect: two 144 metre towers lean towards each other at an angle of five degrees from the centre. CityCenter is unabashedly upmarket but competitors worry the new hotels within the complex will slash prices for its 7,000 rooms and poach guests from other resorts. Another CityCenter hotel, the Harmon, is due to open next year, adding another 400 rooms. The Crystals shopping centre is no less upscale, hosting such high-end retailers as Tiffany and Louis Vuitton. Unemployment in Nevada is about 13 per cent, while visitor numbers this year were struggling to hit 35 million, down from almost 40 million in 2007. Gambling revenues were forecast to drop by 11 per cent this year after a similar fall last year, while residential property prices have fallen by about 50 per cent in the past three years. "I made $10,000 less than last year," said Chris, a taxi driver, who has lived in Las Vegas for 21 years. "My son went to Crystals and said you better not drop anything 'cause the chances are you won't be able to afford to pay for it. But I certainly hope it does draw the kind of people who can afford it to Las Vegas." sdevi@thenational.ae