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Alan Snel

Forget the AC, Las Vegas embraces the great outdoors for entertainment

10 November 2014

LAS VEGAS -- Las Vegas Boulevard’s newest entertainment venues are using one of Nevada’s greatest resources — the great outdoors.

Whether it’s a beer festival, country music concert or truck race on a dirt lot across from the Luxor on the Strip’s south end, or a pop-up rallycross car track behind the High Roller at the Linq, MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment Corporation are among the landowners and event promoters using open space as outdoor venues.

One of the biggest outdoor Strip projects is MGM Resorts’ Rock in Rio on the southwest corner of Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard, where the hotel-casino giant is working with Cirque du Soleil and investment company the Yucaipa Cos., to convert 48 acres into a $20 million permanent, open-air concert venue for 80,000 fans.

MGM Resorts is overseeing construction of the MGM Resorts Festival Grounds, which is expected to host Rock in Rio every other May through 2019.

The music festival founded by Brazilian entrepreneur Roberto Medina is no small venture. A two-day pass next May will run $298; a single-day VIP pass will cost $498. Organizers are expected to spend $60 million to produce the event, said Chris Baldizan, MGM Resorts senior vice president of entertainment.

About 2 miles to the south on the Strip, MGM Resorts also spent $4 million to $5 million to level 15 acres across from the Luxor called “MGM Resorts Village,” and to install water, power, sewer and Wi-Fi, Baldizan said.

MGM Resorts rented the stage for a season and has a lease with an option to buy modular containers that housed suites flanking the stage.

“We had a great first-run of festivals and events at the Village,” Baldizan said. “It’s a big learning curve for us. There have been probably more expenses than what we anticipated.

“Part of the challenge we’re running into is just getting people used to the venue and getting our properties to market it. We have 10 properties on the Strip, and for these event sites to be successful we have to market them correctly.”

A country music festival at the Village events site attracted about 15,000 people per day Oct. 3-5, Baldizan said.

“It’s a matter of making people aware of the venue,” Baldizan said, “and getting smarter on how to spend money and create opportunities for revenue.”

He envisions more uses of the Village site for events such as a Latin festival, motor sports, soccer, Ultimate Fighting Championship events, boxing, volleyball and even convention/trade show activities.

About a mile north on the Strip, Caesars’ festival site east of the High Roller last week hosted to the Red Bull Global Rallycross, which involved 2,500-pound, 600-horsepower cars racing in the giant observation wheel’s shadow.

Colin Dyne, CEO of the Red Bull GRC, said this is the third time the race was held in Las Vegas. Previously it was staged at the MGM festival near Luxor.

Dyne said the Caesars site offered a bigger footprint than the MGM location, and “it’s a good partnership” with Caesars.

Las Vegas Events President Pat Christenson said the entire length of Las Vegas Boulevard — from the northern end at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where the Electric Daisy Carnival stages its annual blowout in June to MGM Resorts’ “south lot” — is becoming a corridor known for music festivals and other outdoor events.

“When you look at the different sites, they have been customized for a multitude of different events,” Christenson said.

Christenson said Las Vegas has a growing inventory of indoor arena venues, but the increased number of outdoor festival lots is being driven by three business trends:

- The need to appeal to millennials —people 18 to 30 — who aren’t interested in gambling.

- A need for more diverse entertainment options for all age groups.

- The importance of having diverse venues that can be tailored to accommodate any type of outdoor genre, whether a food festival, music concert or sports event.

“These sites give them a huge opportunity to diversify,” said Christenson, who is working on the National Finals Rodeo to be held in December. “We have plenty of arenas. The millennials are looking for different types of experiences. These are blank slates that can be tailored to fit a particular event. You’re creating more diverse offerings for people.”

Christenson said Las Vegas’ hot summer weather means less events at the Las Vegas Boulevard outdoor venues during that time of the year.

Even the Life Is Beautiful festival, which drew 30,000 daily for music, art and culinary events from Oct. 24-26 in downtown Las Vegas, was staged off the Las Vegas Boulevard corridor.

Rehan Choudhry, Life Is Beautiful’s founder, said the festival is returning for a third year in 2015. Choudhry said the event will not make money its first three years because it will take time to build the brand.

Choudry said Life Is Beautiful is just one of several new events and venues that represent a new stage in Las Vegas’s entertainment growth. He noted all the events from EDC to Life Is Beautiful to Rock in Rio all have distinct identities and story lines.

“It’s a new era for entertainment experiences,” Choudhry said. “It coincides with the trend we are seeing that an entire generation is choosing entertainment experiences and choosing social collaborations and social collisions. It will be interesting to see how consumers react to these repurposed spaces.”
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