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Arnold M. Knightly

New Year's fireworks returns to Strip roofs

16 November 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- New Year's Eve visitors to the Strip and pyrotechnic gazers from around the valley received good news Friday -- they might actually be able to see the fireworks show this year.

The annual fireworks show will return to the rooftops of seven hotels along the three-mile stretch of the Strip that is the focus of visitors to the area and television specials around the world that night, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and co-sponsor Las Vegas Events announced Friday.

"What we demonstrated by putting it on the ground last year is how bad a show it is on the ground and how great a show it is on the rooftops," said Pat Chrisenson of Las Vegas Events. "There's no comparison."

The fireworks show was launched from resort parking lots and garages last year when new Clark County fire and safety rules tightened regarding rooftop fireworks following the Monte Carlo fire in January 2008.

The lower launch point caused the fireworks to not be viewable for many of the 250,000 visitors to the Strip, Christenson said, as well as being out of view from many vantage points around the valley.

"Where a lot of people are used to seeing it, we used to have 400,000 different views depending where you are in the valley," Christenson said. "Last year we didn't have any. We had none."

The fireworks will be launched from the top of MGM Grand, Planet Hollywood Resort, Caesars Palace, Treasure Island, The Venetian, Stratosphere and the new Aria at CityCenter. An official from MGM Mirage, which owns the Monte Carlo, MGM Grand and Aria, said the company understands better than anybody the need for caution, but is glad the show is returning to the rooftops.

"It was a universal opinion that shooting these fireworks is a far superior experience to last year's performance," MGM Mirage spokesman Gordon Absher said.

The company believes the event planners and county officials have taken the steps necessary to prevent any problems.

Fireworks had been launched from the top of Strip hotels since Dec. 31, 2000.

Michael Green, a history professor at the College of Southern Nevada, said New Year's Eve fireworks high above the Strip have become part of the fabric of Las Vegas.

"Once upon a time, the week between Christmas and New Year's was one of the worst weeks for tourism," Green said. "Las Vegas managed to turn that into a big week. Part of it is the idea of the blowout on New Year's Eve."

Last year's New Year's Eve drew nearly 291,000 visitors to the area, include nearly 30,000 downtown, for an nongaming economic impact of $188 million, according the visitors authority.

After the Monte Carlo fire, which was sparked by a welder's torch, the Clark County Fire Department and Building Services wanted a structural and fire safety study prior to allowing any fireworks displays from building tops.

To complete the study in time for last year's event would have been too-time consuming and cost-prohibitive to produce, Christenson said.

Since January, New York-based Fireworks by Grucci, who produces the pyrotechnics, worked on the study for Las Vegas Events to enable the show's to return to the rooftops.

"For us to put together a study that the fire department was comfortable with just didn't work last year," said Christenson, whose nonprofit group paid for the study.

The final step for county approval is inspections of the launch sites closer to the event date.

"At this time, they have not completed the permitting process for the proposed show," county spokesman Dan Kulin said, conceding there is still plenty of time to do so. "We fully expect they will."

The fireworks show was removed from the roofs in the months after a three-alarm at the Monte Carlo hotel-casino.

No one was seriously hurt, but guests and employees had to evacuate the property and 17 people were treated for minor injuries and smoke inhalation while the exterior facade of the casino burned. The property was closed for three weeks.

The budget for this year's show, which is funded by the state's room tax, increased by $50,000 to $550,000, Christenson said.

The individual properties were supportive and cooperated when needed for the study, Christenson said.

This year's theme and music will be announced during a press conference a few weeks before New Year's Eve, Christenson said.

Fireworks by Grucci has produced numerous shows in Las Vegas for New Year's Eve and the Fourth of July. The company has also done shows for numerous area event including the implosions of the New Frontier and the Stardust.

The company will also do the fireworks for the $8.5 billion CityCenter grand opening Dec. 16.

Although last year's move from the roof to the ground was about safety, Green said it seemed to symbolize the economic downturn the region was sliding into.

"That isn't the attitude you want to convey on New Year's Eve," he said. "Even if it's the reality. Granting that Las Vegas is still in a lot of economic hurt, the signs are pointing the right way. So maybe the fireworks will give us something to look forward to and up to."