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Jennifer Robison

CityCenter getting mostly favorable reviews

7 December 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- It only began opening for business Wednesday, and its centerpiece resort hasn't yet opened, but CityCenter is already drawing strong reactions from tourists.

CityCenter visitors who spoke with the Review-Journal on Friday unanimously praised the resort's design and interior decoration, and they offered some validation for the resort's riskier elements, such as the upscale retail at Crystals and the nongaming environment at the 1,495-suite luxury tower Vdara.

But they also pointed to problems arising from big parts of the resort remaining closed, and they said CityCenter might be a little too high-end overall to attract mass markets.

First-time Las Vegas tourists Bruce and Susan Thompson of Toronto have stayed at Vdara since it opened Wednesday. They chose the resort because they heard it was just opening, and they found a package with the right price: $800 per person for airfare and a week's stay at the property.

Susan Thompson said she would recommend Vdara to her friends.

"Not being a gambler, when you walk downstairs, it's not like walking into a casino," she said. "And coming from Canada, with our smoking laws, I really notice a difference when there's smoking around. This is no-smoking, and that's nice, whereas when I walk into the casinos, the smell of smoke is one of the first things that hits me."

Carole Terrell of Truckee, Calif., and her husband, green-building consultant Scott Terrell, are staying at Vdara this weekend for Carole's company Christmas trip and party. The couple walked through Crystals on Friday afternoon, snapping pictures of each other and the shopping center.

Carole Terrell had high praise for the architecture at Crystals and the quiet atmosphere at Vdara.

"I think it's great that they've built a facility so that people who are not gamers or smokers can enjoy this environment," she said.

Crystals' brand-name luxury drew in Patrick Oyeku, Julie Lambert and Kathryn Santana. The three tourists, all salespeople from New York City, were driving down the Strip when Oyeku spotted the Louis Vuitton store and decided on a quick detour. Once inside, they saw the rest of Crystals, which "was big and pretty and drew us in," Lambert said.

Oyeku ended up dropping $1,000 on Kanye West shoes at Louis Vuitton, and Lambert spent $400 inside Tiffany & Co. Santana didn't buy anything, but only because Gucci wasn't open yet, she said.

"It's going to be something. I think this is going to be the new shopping district," Oyeku said. "It's like the Fifth Avenue of Las Vegas. That's what it feels like."

But visitors also expressed some concerns about CityCenter.

Aria, CityCenter's main hotel-casino, remains closed until Dec. 16, so the property isn't yet the walkable, one-stop-shop resort its developers have promised. Plus, some miscommunication between MGM Mirage and employees at Vdara caused problems for tourists trying to get from the hotel to Crystals. A Review-Journal reporter heard employees in the Vdara lobby and in the hotel's valet circle tell couples that the CityCenter tram, which has stops at Bellagio, Crystals and Monte Carlo, wasn't running, so they'd have to walk through Bellagio to get to the Strip or hoof it through the Cosmopolitan construction zone along Harmon Avenue to get to Crystals. One couple decided they didn't want to risk the walk along Harmon to Crystals, and went back inside Vdara.

Bruce Thompson said it was "frustrating" that he and Susan had to walk through Bellagio to get from Vdara to the Strip.

But an MGM Mirage spokeswoman said late Friday that the tram is up and running at all points, and miscommunication inside Vdara caused the access hiccups.

"Some of this is the stumbling blocks of a property that's only been open for days," Public Relations Director Christi Braginton said. "When you're talking about complexes with as many details and elements as CityCenter, sometimes it's a little difficult to get everybody on the same page as quickly as everybody would like."

Susan Thompson also didn't like that her deluxe suite inside Vdara had a kitchen but no dishes or utensils, and no coffee maker. She brought her own immersion heater so she and her husband could enjoy coffee in their room in the morning.

Bruce Thompson also sees potential oversupply in local hotel rooms, and said he thinks resort operators will have a tough time filling rooms as long as the economy continues to slump.

CityCenter's high-end aura threatened to deter other visitors.

San Diegan Karen Martin comes to Las Vegas five times a year. She's staying at The Mirage this week with her sister, and the two ate lunch at Vdara's Silk Road restaurant Friday afternoon. Martin called Vdara "stunning" and her lunch "fabulous." She plans to see the rest of CityCenter when she returns to Las Vegas in January.

"But I didn't walk away saying, 'Oh, I want to stay here,' " Martin said. "I have no idea what the room rates are (at CityCenter). I come to Vegas to have a great time, and I don't normally spend a lot on a room. I normally get comped. I don't know if I would stay at CityCenter. Maybe I would if the value was there."

Martin also said CityCenter could hurt the fun "craziness" that comes with rampant hotel-hopping on the Strip, because the resort could keep its visitors contained inside.

"It worries me that it will class-separate Las Vegas," she said.

And Carole Terrell said Crystals would draw its fair share of window shoppers rather than actual shoppers, since the universe of people who can afford to buy at luxury boutiques is limited.

"They're going to attract some high-end people, but for the majority of people who come to Las Vegas, I'm not sure this is their market," she said. "I don't think it's for the average person when it comes to affordability."

Indeed, there were more cameras than shopping bags visible inside Crystals on Friday afternoon, though traffic in the shopping center was strong, with a steady stream of visitors coming in from the Strip. The center opened Thursday with 23 of its 60 tenants open. Another nine retailers will open when Aria debuts, with the rest coming in 2010.

Still, pretty much all of the people interviewed for this story said they'd come back and give CityCenter another chance once it's fully opened. They also said they'd tell their friends to pay the resort a visit when they're in town.

Said Mitch, a Floridian who declined to give his last name but said he'll stay at Aria on a future trip: "It's absolutely lovely, and I'm sure once it's completely open, it's going to be fantastic."