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Gaming Guru

Jennifer Robison

Major Renovation Slated for Mirage

2 August 2005

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- When it opened in 1989, The Mirage set a new standard for luxury in the local resort sector and helped revitalize a tired Strip.

Now, the property that launched the modern wave of themed megaresorts on Las Vegas Boulevard needs some refreshing of its own, say executives of parent company MGM Mirage. So they're changing the 3,000-room property's restaurant lineup, adding an upscale nightclub, upgrading its signature volcano and adding a major Cirque du Soleil show.

The renovation is the biggest single overhaul The Mirage has received since it opened 16 years ago; it's also a bid to lure back customers who moved on to newer offerings such as The Venetian, Bellagio and Wynn Las Vegas.

"This is about letting people know that if they haven't been here in a while, they need to come back and see The Mirage," said Scott Sibella, president and chief operating officer of the property. "A lot of changes are taking place to make the property more contemporary and more state of the art. People want to see new things and experience something no one else has. We aren't just replacing wallpaper -- we are creating a new experience."

Sibella declined to disclose the cost of the upgrades at The Mirage. And though he couldn't offer a firm number, he said jobs at the resort would increase with completion of the changes.

Jim Medick, chief executive of market-research company MRC Group, said the upgrade is essential.

"In the Las Vegas market, you need to be thinking about a new look almost every five years just to keep everything fresh," Medick said. "We see changes in the marketplace, including a younger crowd, more frequent trips and more weekenders. (Executives of The Mirage) need to make sure they address those changes and keep a forward-looking view. The Mirage still has a very solid image. It stays right up there as one of the most frequently mentioned properties in our polls, so it still holds quite a bit of popularity. ... I think (executives) are just looking to stay on the cutting edge."

Sibella said MGM Mirage began planning improvements about two years ago. Two key upgrades are already in place: Cravings, an upscale buffet with marble countertops, opened in May 2004; and a high-limit lounge with interior design elements by renowned glass sculptor Dale Chihuly and a private buffet opened in early July.

But major reconstruction will start this summer as officials direct a bigger change inspired by customer surveys and "seeing what our competitors are doing," Sibella said.

The centerpiece of that transformation is a Cirque du Soleil production based on the music of the Beatles. Sibella said a rebuilding of the former Siegfried & Roy showroom is 80 percent complete. Cirque du Soleil, which is producing the show in conjunction with The Mirage and Beatles holding company Apple Corps Ltd., said when it announced the show last fall that the production's development would cost at least $100 million. When it makes its debut next summer, the show will be Cirque du Soleil's fifth resident venture in Las Vegas.

Sibella said the Cirque du Soleil show should mean good business for several new restaurants, a nightclub and a lounge at The Mirage.

Executives are replacing three restaurants -- Renoir, Moongate and Mikado. Renoir, a former Mobil Five-Star restaurant that closed in December when chef Alex Stratta moved to Wynn Las Vegas, will become Fin, a contemporary Chinese restaurant led by chef Chi Choi of Fortune at the Rio. Moongate, a Chinese eatery that closed in mid-July, will reopen as Stack, a concept from the management team behind Fix at Bellagio. And Japanese restaurant Mikado will become Japonais, with a modern take on Asian cuisine. Japonais is the first outpost of a successful Chicago eatery by restaurateurs Miae Lim and Rick Wahlstedt.

In addition, steakhouse Kokomo's will receive an aesthetic overhaul from Adam Tihany, an in-demand restaurant architect who designed Cravings and Mandalay Bay's Aureole, among other local dining venues.

Japonais will open in spring 2006; the others will debut in the fourth quarter of this year.

Oliver Wharton, director of restaurants for The Light Group, said Stack will resemble the company's Fix at Bellagio, with American comfort foods and a high-energy atmosphere.

"We'll have a very approachable, fun restaurant that people feel comfortable coming to before they go to the show," Wharton said. "Later in the evening, the demographic will be the hip, under-40 crowd that wants to dine as well as be part of an energetic scene. Renoir was a restaurant where people whispered. We're transforming (the space) into an exciting environment."

The Light Group, which also operates nightclubs Light and Caramel at Bellagio and Mist at Treasure Island, will develop a nightclub and lounge at The Mirage as well. At 15,500 square feet, nightclub Jet, scheduled to open in December, will be more than twice the size of Bellagio's Light and will feature three separate rooms with three distinct dance floors and musical rosters. And Mink Bar & Lounge will open in early 2006 at the center of The Mirage with a combined rock bar-chic lounge concept.

Sean Christie, managing partner of The Light Group, said he's especially interested in cultivating a "hip, high-end" crowd of local patrons, so Jet will have a north-side entrance that allows direct access to the club from the street.

Customers who linger outside the property will also see a revamped volcano. Wet Design, the California company that created the dancing fountains at Bellagio, will add taller fireballs, more realistic lava and louder sounds. Sibella said he expects the volcano to erupt on its current schedule -- every 30 minutes from 7 p.m. to midnight -- when the new version opens this fall.

Sibella said no design or operational changes to Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat are planned, though the attraction will soon begin a partnership with the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay and eventually allow visitors to help train the dolphins.

The Mirage's rooms were renovated about three years ago, so Sibella said no new changes are necessary. But the hotel's common areas will get new carpet, and updated uniforms and sings are also on the list of improvements.

Major Renovation Slated for Mirage is republished from