That, above, is a collectible summary of the CityCenter/Aria opening activity on Dec. 16. There's so much that went on, so much to show. But to kick off this series of posts, here's the special 5-minute edition of "The Strip" that provides an overview with video of Jim Murren ringing the NYSE closing bell, the fireworks over Aria, an interview with a woman who waited four hours to get in and much more. Watch this YouTube version or download it by right-clicking here.
Of course, MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren was all smiles. He thanked God for the sunny day and then pretty much took credit for everything else.
I raced back to Vdara after that to file the first version of my AFP report on the opening, which would be updated three more times in the subsequent 12 hours. On my way, though, I caught this angle showing the dwarfed Bellagio.
That makes my heart sink. So did hearing Andrea Bocelli's "Time To Say Goodbye" as the Bellagio Fountains danced as I drove by en route to the Aria opening party at about 7:30 p.m.
Earlier, Murren rang the closing bell for the New York Stock Exchange via satellite from out front of Mandarin Oriental with Aria in the background.
That was pretty cool, even if it was weird how they all grinned and waved and Murren banged away at the bell for about a minute so they would be seen doing the deed whenever CNBC cut to them for a few seconds. He looked like he was pounding on one of these:
Of course, what he was smacking was more prestigious than that, see?
That's the bell they use for the big Vegas boxing matches. Well, the hammer came from the local hardware store earlier that day, an MGM spokesdude divulged. But still. Nifty.
On the pedestrian bridge nearby that connects Mandarin to Crystals, smokefree casino activists (yes, they exist) were permitted to wave their signs questioning why the US Green Building Council would grant LEED certification to Aria given the existence of smoking:
I write "permitted" because I have this instinct that the next big free-speech battle coming our way from the folks who brought us Constitutionally protected union picketing outside the Venetian and smut-peddling up and down the Boulevard (the ACLU, that is) will be whether that bridge is a public or private space. People are able to walk past CityCenter at ground level, but I can see a shade of gray over this...
...and expect a legal battle to ensue sooner or later unless Murren was serious about CityCenter being a genuine place for the public to gather in the sense of the way such places are in New York City. Nahhhh.
Anyhow, in the media room, these renderings were on display to show what CityCenter, nee 55 West, was conceived as in its earliest concepts back in 2004:
The live music started in the afternoon. There was lots of strings, drums and guitar...
...but no opera. Given the name of the place, youda thought they'd bring in the world's greatest opera diva, right? Of course, I have no idea who that would be. But something tells me Murren does.
Before the nighttime affair, I had to rush over to the Panorama Tower unit that my dad and I have as a rental. We're between tenants and I was having the place repainted. So I went out on the pied-a-terre and shot this:
For some reason it still came out grainy with my proper digicam. I may see if a professional photog I know wants to come over and get some stock images before we rent out the place and can't get in anymore. But I did think this shot from the breakfast nook tells the tale of what a neat apartment this would be.
And yes, Miles and I would move right in if we weren't so far underwater on our current abode especially now that there's auto access over the highway directly into CityCenter. Sigh.
So there was a party. It was really light on celebrities. I didn't even see Holly Madison or Oscar Goodman and what do those two ever miss these days? I asked several people who they'd seen and the best several could conjure up was Monte Rock III. The Twitter feeds of Norm Clarke and Robin Leach both fell oddly silent all evening; Norm later Tweeted that he had trouble with cell service inside Aria which made me feel modestly better because I thought Aria was simply an I-HATE-IPHONE zone. Turns out, other carriers were troublesome, too. I just find it so strange and incomprehensible that every new Vegas resort has this problem, but Wynn, Encore and Palazzo were similarly challenged.
I did huddle with Norm in person to compare notes because AFP wanted some BOLD FACED NAMES and the list we had was kind of pathetic: David Brenner and Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. John Katsilometes had the scoop that some obscure ex-baseball player was around, too, and Wynn Resorts president Andrew Pascal informed me his aunt, Elaine Wynn, was present as well. Oh, and this...
...is Estefania Serrano, daughter of Picasso chef Julian Serrano. I shot her because I thought the dress -- a Betsey Johnson -- was cute and unusually colorful for the event, then learned she was "somebody." The invite urged "city chic" attire, which seemed to translate into a lot of black. (Oh, and I did ask her what Julian Serrano's guilty food pleasure is. Answer: McDonald's french fries. Predictable, but at least it wasn't In N Out, the typical star-chef response.)
There were fireworks but I was shooting that video so this, above, was the best I got of that. But then there was a 40-minute period during which all the slot machines, which had looked like this...
...then looked like this, signalling the moment was neigh:
Also, crews raced to remove the party-related decor...
...as crowds gathered. There were certainly lots of people, but early estimates of 20,000 were simply ridiculous. I spoke to people right at the barricades at 11:15 p.m. who had been there for about 10 minutes.
Then it was time and the folks -- as seen in the YouTube video -- were allowed to stream forth.
Lines formed immediately at this predictable location...
...but some very refined folks were much more anxious to check out all that artwork. Folks like this: