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Gaming Guru

Joe Brown

CityCenter sells model dream

15 February 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- I have seen the future of Las Vegas and it smells good.

You can walk right into it. It's surprisingly close, just behind New York-New York and the Monte Carlo.

This is the CityCenter Sales Pavilion, boasting a suite of architectural models the size of dump trucks. A marketing tool as work of art, as ambitiously, aesthetically grandiose as any outre installation by Matthew Barney, this is Disneyland for the competitively acquisitive. The Cirque du Soleil of open houses. Architects Gone Wild.

It stands as a substantial Strip attraction in itself, a thrill ride for grown-ups, who are visiting in throngs. Those who are addicted to weekend walk-throughs, glossy "shelter porn" magazines and TV design shows (you know who you are) are in for the time of their lives.

This mirage materializes on a relatively quiet weekday afternoon at the Bellagio. The casino hums, the high-end boutiques — Chanel, Prada, Gucci, Dior — stand oddly empty but for salespeople. One glass-fronted storefront — the CityCenter Residential Gallery — somehow draws a steady stream of visitors with its siren song. Passers-by approach as if magnetized by the otherworldly objects glowing inside; they enter apprehensively, as if not worthy of the gallery's perfection.

The allure is finally irresistible and every day, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., people cluster around an oval table, mesmerized by a miniature city illuminated from within, sheathed in shimmering, translucent skin, complete with a bite-size Bellagio flanked by a teeny tiny 215.

It's as if Las Vegas had a dream of itself — and somehow forgot to include the Las Vegans. Unashamedly "futuristic" in that Tomorrowland/"Jetsons"/"Logan's Run" kind of way that went out of fashion in the early 1960s, this convergence of world-famous architects is an Escape to the Planet of the Super-Rich. It might be a haven for gods — or a lair for supervillains. All that's missing is the dome.

The beautifully detailed, laser-cut and hand-assembled scale models inside this $250,000, 1,850-square-foot showroom at the Bellagio (there are smaller showcases at the Mirage, the MGM Grand and the Monte Carlo) are only the first hill of this real estate roller coaster. Helplessly hooked after a free taste of travertine and silk, several hundred people each day take the plunge and visit the nearby Residential Sales Pavilion. This is a $250 million, 29,000-square-foot state-of-the-art Ozymandias, where master planners and marketing Rasputins have seen to every detail — visible and invisible — to sell the $7.8 billion, 76-acre, vertical CityCenter being developed by MGM Mirage, the largest landholder on the Strip and the world's leading developer of destination resorts.

As envisioned, this skyline-redefining city within a city — it's erupting from the Las Vegas landscape right now — will encompass 500,000 square feet of retail, dining and entertainment venues, and 7,400 hotel rooms and condominium units, employing a projected 12,000 people. It will soar above the rest of us and have its back to us on all sides.

People will begin to move into the future in 2009.

Infernally, ingeniously crafted to seduce each sense, the come-on commences even before the glass doors silently part. There's valet parking, then a concierge and a posh coffee bar. And more scale models — even more spectacular models — including an aerial perspective of the entire Strip — that may just provide the ultimate view of Vegas. Tiny swimming pools glisten, surrounded by minute lounge chairs, fringed by long-lashed palm trees.

From this godlike perspective, it may be deduced that in the future, all cars will be white. There will be no traffic congestion. There will be very few people.

Look on their works, ye mighty, and despair:

• The Vdara Condo Hotel, designed by Rafael Vinoly. A 57-story tower with more than 1,500 residential units (owners have the option to rent them out on a nightly basis). Priced from "the low $600,000s."

• Veer Towers, by Helmut Jahn. Twin 37-story glass towers sheathed in pale green, they appear to lean at five degrees in opposite directions. Approximately 337 condominium residences from the low $500,000s.

• Residences at Mandarin Oriental, by Kohn Pederson Fox Associates. A 400-room hotel tower, topped by 227 condominium residences and penthouses, starting at $3.7 million.

• Aqua Harmon Hotel and Residences, by Foster + Partners. Apparently formed of curvy beach glass in pale blues and aquas, it will contain 400 hotel rooms and 209 condos.

• The Crystals, designed by Studio Daniel Libeskind. A half-million square feet of mixed entertainment and retail venues.

• And at the heart of it all, of course, a 61-story, 4,000-room hotel and casino designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects that includes a venue for a new Cirque du Soleil spectacle celebrating the legacy of Elvis Presley.

CityCenter sales representatives hover like museum docents (or the most elegant carnival barkers ever), clearly well-trained to anticipate any question. They are understandably alert and protective, forbidden to be quoted. You're not permitted to take photographs or video on the premises. But you can leave clutching the glossy CityCenter magazine and brochure, as handsomely designed as any museum catalog.

You are enticed to wander through each gallery or "vignette," dramatically lighted in hues of chartreuse, tangerine and violet, complete with simulated dawn-to-dusk views of the Strip. Touch the textures of stone surfaces and pebbled fabrics, framed and highlighted swatches in ethereal and earthy color palettes and textures that have been chosen by the elite for the elite. Each room even has its own signature fragrance whispering, "This could be yours."

The overall experience is sensually sensational, even elating — you've clearly reached the aspirational apex of luxury and achievement. It's stimulating and soothing; you feel like you belong. For the moment.

But the view from this summit has a swift kickback, a shadow side. It might leave you feeling curiously deflated — like maybe you've been living your life wrong all these years. Left out. A loser.

It's hard to imagine your messy, all-too-human self living amid this intimidating, unattainable perfection. Though the structures are labeled as "communities," there are no neighborhoods here. And it's all but impossible to imagine children — shouting, smudging, skateboarding ...

It's a slightly spooky apparition, an anti-utopia, a flash forward to a world where the super-rich have eliminated the rest of us. The Rapture or Armageddon or another End Time scenario has arrived — and all that's left are the sleek, shimmering buildings.

Like any work of art, CityCenter's surface beauty attracts and impels, then inspires a series of conflicting feelings. Awe, undeniably. Envy, perhaps. Lust, certainly. Greed, self-pity, fear ...

Although I like comfort well enough, I've never considered myself a particularly materialistic person. But my hour spent in the CityCenter Sales Pavilion made me covetous. I loved it. And I hated loving it. Still, I'll be back, and I'll bring visitors with me.

Dreaming is free.