Friday, December 18, 2009

Opening Aria I: The Overview

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.

So. I've also got dozens of images in my unannotated Flickr set and strongly recommend browsing the copious amount of photos posted on Flickr here by RateVegas.Com's Hunter Hillegas.

Wednesday began with a bunch of pomp and circumstance. The ceremony in front of Aria was the only of the ribbon-cuttings I attended over the past month and then there was no ribbon-cutting. Still, it really felt like a momentous occasion, what with Priscilla Presley in the front row...

...and the Aria star-chef lineup...

...seated a row behind the architectural dream team. (That's Aria designer Cesar Pelli in the pink tie.)

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... 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:

Out of order stickers being removed from slots. Last half hou... on Twitpic

Also, crews raced to remove the party-related decor... 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:


atdnext said...

As a proud ACLU member, I hope they succeed. Regardless of whether or not we agree with the various protesters and smut peddlers and all other colorful characters on Las Vegas Blvd., the fact of the matter is that the First Amendment protects free speech and free expression in the public areas of The Strip... Even the kind(s) that the big casino CEOs would rather simply suppress.

But anyway, back to CityCenter... Hopefully with Aria now open, it's more "complete" and more people will come and explore. I'll be stopping by with a friend next week, and I can't wait to explore inside Aria. :-)

ucsb1990 said...

I'm afraid I disagree with that last comment. When I see kids walking by racks of escort service flyers on their way to school, I can't help but wish that the Founding Fathers had exempted commercial speech from the First Amendment. If someone's trying to sell you something, I just don't believe that their material deserves the same Constitutional protection as political, religious, or educational expression.

If the walkways around CityCenter are, in fact, deemed to be public spaces, then I have a suggestion for Harrah's: they should send a couple employees to loan out folding chairs (with the Caesar's logo, of course) in front of Crystals. Maybe that would persuade CityCenter to put in some more benches.

By the way, that Fisher-Price ad clipping was hilarious.

The violin player looks cute. You gave her my number, right? We might need to borrow your condo. Which reminds me: thanks for the great pics! Spectacular view.

atdnext said...


I can see where you're going... And while I also have concerns about the "corporatization" of our society, the Supremes have consistently ruled that commercial advertisements also count as "free speech". And since just about everything else is advertised on The Strip, I don't see why the "sex industry" should be singled out like that.

And btw, there aren't any public schools anywhere around The Strip. And since there's also a 10:00 PM nightly curfew on The Strip for everyone under 18, it's not like kids will run into "The Stripper-mobile" or any of the other wilder advertising over there.

(And no, I NEVER see the "baseball cards" or "The Stripper-mobile" hanging out here in Henderson, so families here have absolutely nothing to worry about.)

Jeff in OKC said...

I am guessing that if the walkways are above pubic roadways they are considered public spaces. The reason for my opinion is that beggars and "bottled water $1.00" sellers are all over the walkways between NY-NY and Excalibur (both MGM properties), as well as most other walkways on the Strip. I have always asumed if they were private space the Casino security force would run them off.

ucsb1990 said...

atdnext -

What happens in the tourist corridors doesn't really bother me; it's what happens elsewhere. There are two public schools near Maryland Parkway and Twain, along with many racks of escort service flyers and booklets. Every school day, many, many little kids are walking past those racks on their way to and from school. I bet the same thing happens in some other neighborhoods as well.

Obviously, there are already exceptions to the First Amendment; it doesn't protect libel, or kiddie porn, or shouting "fire" in a crowded theater. I think those exclusions could reasonably be extended to allowing communities to place limits on locations where advertising would be allowed. I understand the "slippery slope" argument; I just disagree with the ACLU on the point at which limitations on free speech endanger our fundamental human rights.

Incidentally, I think Steve and Emily should be allowed to put up advertising for the Petcast anywhere they want, even on Jim Murren's forehead.