Saturday, December 5, 2009
That said, there are two upsides:
* He's fine with me writing all sorts of pieces based on the conversation, so there will be loads of good stuff I'll post in the next few days about Bette Midler, Garth and a few other topics.
* He offered me an interview specifically for the podcast and hopefully we'll be able to do that in the next week or so.
So, instead, we're playing my lengthy and revelatory interview with MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren in which I confront him with the hideousness of the Elvis wrap and the fact that there remains no evidence whatsoever that anyone wants to live on the Strip.
Hopefully you'll join us after all. We'll still start at about 4 -- not sure the format yet -- and we'll have Hunter Hillegas of RateVegas.Com in the studio so we can mull our reactions to the Mandarin Oriental party last night and other CityCenter-related stuff.
Join us at LVRocks.Com to listen live and chat with fellow listeners. I hope this is posted early enough that nobody feels bait-and-switched.
Friday, December 4, 2009
It's been such a grim week for so many people, I thought I'd try to lighten it up with some of the silly stuff I collect around these parts. Like, for instance, this headline from a few weeks ago in the View, the weekly R-J neighborhood supplement. It's not enough that I'm a total hypochondriac, but now the newspaper is giving me a reason? I somehow failed to cut out the beginning of this story because I figured I'd be able to find it in online, but it actually went something like, "You know that headache you thought was just stress? It could be cancer." No, really.
And what if I got a headache because I stretched this carton of milk all the way...
...to its sell-by date, 120 years from now.
Maybe my pal, photog Denise Truscello, whose birthday was this week, can give me a sense of what it's like to live that long...
She looks REALLY good for 106, too...
I pulled into Sonic recently because Miles likes a Reese's blast when he has a headache, and while I waited I noticed this thing hanging from the board:
Let me get this straight. If they DON'T try to upsell us, we get $2? So we're supposed to WANT to have the inconvenience of telling a barely coherent voice through a speaker no, no, no, all we want to commit suicide-by-diet today is what we've already ordered?
You can't blame 'em though, when this...
...was the most thrilling thing that happened to me that day. Maybe if this lady I shot at the BlogWorld convention in October had a Sonic blast...
...she'd be happier?
There were some fun cartoons I clipped in recent weeks that gave me a giggle:
Somebody was bound to do this one sooner or later, but it still made me laugh:
And, finally, while I am stung and dismayed by the people the Las Vegas Sun fired this week, I'm heartened that cartoonist Mike Smith wasn't one of them. And here's yet another reason why:
Happy Weekend, everyone!
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Then I need to finish an overdue Sphere.Com piece on, yes, CityCenter, before the Crystals media open house from noon-5. Plus, gotta rent me a tux for the Mandarin Oriental opening on Friday night -- this is Vegas, quickie tux rental should be easy, yes? -- and I've got a LVW column idea that'll also take a little legwork.
So I probably won't be able to blog much today, but I've been very efficient at approving comments, which is easier to do via iPhone than anything else on Blogger, and there've been loads of them so browse the site. And keep 'em coming.
And, also, please take a look at my largest and most significant CityCenter piece, the cover of L.A. Weekly. It's a 4,000-word examination of the premises of the project and raises some issues I have yet to see anyone discuss in this rah-rah period. The piece was edited by Drex Heikes, the editor who drove Ali Berzon's Pulitzer-winning package on CityCenter construction deaths at the Sun. He got out of dodge before the carnage, much to my benefit.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Is Steve Wynn Rooting For CityCenter?
By STEVE FRIESS
It’s the conventional wisdom, so naturally Steve Wynn must do his best to explode it.
As we plod through this period of CityCenter launches that culminates on December 16 with the grand opening of the 4,004-room Aria, the response to skepticism about the project’s very premise is, again and again, to refer back to naysayers who predicted the doom of the Mirage when it bowed in 1989. The Review-Journal, in fact, built its entire Mirage-at-20 piece last month upon the notion that the sourpusses who insist on examining CityCenter’s potential through the lens of the current market and the questions about its lofty, unproved concepts are the same as those who doubted Steve Wynn two decades ago.
Nothing seems to piss Steve Wynn off more these days, not even Obamacare or Garth Brooks ticket scalpers.
“To compare CityCenter to Mirage is a ridiculous non sequitur,” he shouted into the phone last week. “It made a nice story, but it fails to examine the facts, like most of the stuff you guys write.”
Happy to pretend that by “you guys” he meant everyone but me, I pressed on. I had just finished two lengthy interviews with CityCenter President Bobby Baldwin, the executive Wynn plucked from the Golden Nugget poker room and made his first lieutenant and with whom he built the Mirage, Treasure Island and Bellagio. Baldwin parted ways with Wynn after MGM bought Mirage and has overseen CityCenter’s construction and development since it was but a bubble diagram conjured up by MGM Mirage’s then-president/now-CEO Jim Murren and design chief Bill Smith back in 2004.
“At the Mirage, we had nothing but negative publicity until the day we opened,” Baldwin recalled. “‘It’s gonna cost too much to run, it cost too much to build, it’s going to cannibalize the marketplace, the Las Vegas visitor volumes aren’t big enough for a place as large as Mirage.’ Then the day we opened, everyone went silent, and all they said were good things.”
Wynn didn’t deny that all of these things were said about the Mirage. It’s just different because while the Mirage was seen then as the great revolution of Las Vegas, all its moving parts had actually been seen and proven before.
Read the rest HERE
I asked SG how he knew. But someone else sent along this link to an August 2009 piece in Forbes about Stephens Media Group and its frugal approach. It's worth reading, but here's the part that backs up SG's comment:
Huh. Of course, if nobody had ever levered up, Vegas would still have 200,000 people and nobody would've ever heard of Steve Wynn. Just saying.
I don't know how to gracefully swing from something as grave as dozens of colleagues becoming unemployed to this, but CityCenter's openings remain the most significant story in Las Vegas this year -- yes, it's bigger than the Ensign follies and more locally significant than anything Harry Reid may do in DC -- and I've got to continue to document it.
So...those lovelies above were models hired by CityCenter and party sponsor Vanity Fair to offer peeks of their cleavage at the soiree throughout the first floor of Vdara, which opened officially. I must admit that it was tickling to finally be able to turn right off the Strip onto Harmon Avenue and drive up under the Nancy Rubins boat sculpture. I just love that piece so much.
After that, though, HOLY CRAPOLINA, People! You WILL be confused about where to drive. I think I had to go around twice and find the right turn to get to Vdara valet. As I wrote in my post after my first tour, the place has a feel of a very modern-looking airport terminal in that respect. MAJOR troubles ahead in terms of confused motorists. And the entire place will snarl when there are serious accidents. Yikes.
I'm not as good at writing up design and interior descriptions as Chuck from VegasTripping.Com or Hunter from RateVegas.Com, but I got here first, so I'll give it my best shot.
Vdara's first floor -- haven't seen the rooms yet -- could easily be that of a Grand Hyatt or another upper-middle-end hotel. There's a bar, one restaurant, some sitting areas and some convention space tucked in one side. It's intended as a hotel-condo but, of course, there's no grocery store or small convenience store that I could see. Where do they think people who might live there would get their sundries? Baffling.
There is a definitive 1970s-ish vibe in the decor, which is headlined by this Frank Stella piece behind registration. I recall in the 1970s as a boy on Long Island, my dad's printing company office was adorned with reproductions of similar colorful-shape pieces like this:
I was happy to see some substantial carpeting on the lobby. It is my biggest worry about what I've seen of Aria so far, that they've got these huge wide-open spaces and lots of hard surfaces and nothing to absorb noise or make walking less punishing.
The restaurant, Silk Road, follows through with this using something I haven't seen anyone EVER use in Vegas: Wallpaper. And shiny, busy wallpaper at that. Here's the inside and out of it:
I actually liked the wallpaper and totally loved the big bottle installation over the bar. It reminded me of my mother's kitchen as a boy, where the wallpaper was so intense that I could sit there for hours working out shapes and stuff. Sad, but I found that fun.
Back in the lobby, Bar Vdara is very cool. It may be that I just finished cooking Thanksgiving dinner and using my food-processor slicer, but I think of uncooked potato chips when I see this fixture:
There were two things in the lobby that were totally out of place. This...
...reproduction of a 1999 Rauschenberg is one. It must be a repro or Team CityCenter Art would've made it well known that they had one. If you're going to use random pieces in and among the headliners like Rubins and Stella and you want visitors to realize that Stella is REAL, maybe go with UNKNOWN or up-and-coming artists for random spots like this?
The other thing was this:
It was some sort of video display of information about Sebastian Copeland, a photographer-adventurer. I couldn't tell if it was there just because Copeland was one of the headliners for the party or if it would be there permanently. Either way, it was ineffective. It was an ugly bunch of screens in the middle of a very lovely space and nobody paid any attention to it. [UPDATE: They're temporary, CityCenter PR peeps say. Good. They're dumb.]
Vdara's lobby has the single most interesting piece of artwork (to me) in the whole $40 million collection, twin wall installations by the elevator banks, one of which is this:
See that? Small slits of paper stacked up make that design. When I brought it up to Hunter Hillegas in the car last month on our way to dinner, he actually bounced up and down with glee over how cool it is. It's by Peter Wegner, a name you should know. Here's a terrific written Q-and-A from KQED, an NPR station.
Also cool was how this outdoor podium/sign becomes a couch at Silk Road...
...and the view of the Rubins from inside.
When you go left from the registration desk, you come to a path with this baubly light fixture...
...that leads to a space outside of the ballrooms of the convention area. Here's one of those rooms -- I didn't go inside, sorry -- named for Rafael Vinoly, the architect of Vdara.
In that ballroom lobby area was this pretty cool lighted installation:
It was a nice enough party. Silk Road served up these drinks...
...and by the convention area was this bar serving fancy champagne.
Waiters circulated with flutes of champagne or...glasses of water. I'd never actually seen that before, people walking around a reception with trays of water. Have you?
The food was minimal. Actually, it was hidden in the convention area in such a way that most people at the other end of the event had no idea it was there. There was a bar of little sweets:
Those tree branches sport chocolate-dipped strawberries. The middle photo were trays of marshmallowy things.
Finally, I saw something I hadn't realized was there as I was driving out. Uh, once I figured out how to get out, that is. Planet Hollywood has erected this gigantic...
...lighted screen. I don't recall that being there before, but it will greet everyone who exits CityCenter from the Strip and walks across the pedestrian bridge. I was driving when I shot this, so I apologize for its lack of clarity.
It reminds me of what Steve Wynn once told me when he built that mountain: "A carnival's great, but you can only control your section of the midway." I doubt Jim Murren will be sending Robert Earl any bouquets for that eyesore.
Please continue to let me know and I will add them here. I also need to try to determine whether there's any sort of logic to who's left. It seems like virtually the entire sports staff is gone, for instance, and arts writers Joe Brown and Kristen Peterson have been shifted to the Las Vegas Weekly. Will the eight-page Sun now primarily be a vehicle for coverage of government?
Since many have asked me, my "The Petcast" co-host and Sun education writer Emily Richmond did survive. I'm told that photographer Sam Morris, whom I had previously listed, also is still employed.
Today, Sun publisher Brian Greenspun addressed the matter on the front page of the paper in a very strange piece. Yes, he acknowledged the economic ravages that have brought upon this moment but no, he did not publicly acknowledge the veterans whose service had ended. What's more, he tried to, like with the press release, suggest there's some good here. "It was both a hopeful and a sad moment," he wrote. Hopeful for who? He refers to his publications -- and I agree -- as "credible and responsible" content providers, except that he acknowledged no managerial errors that led to this -- there had to be some, even if they were sins of excessive journalistic ambition -- and did not specify how many people had lost their jobs.
One more thing. I don't believe for a moment that Mike Kelley, the grizzled old managing editor, happened to decide to retire recently because he feels obligated to his family as Greenspun wrote. Kelley knew this day was coming, didn't want to be a part of it and decided journalism like this just isn't as fun or important as it was. That's my hunch, anyhow. Anyone who knows this man knows that he would have been happiest to keel over on a printing press.
Anyhow, since the Sun won't do it, I will. Here's what I've got so far in terms of who lost their jobs. If you read the papers or the sites, you'll know their names. As Hunter Hillegas of RateVegas.Com mentioned in his comment on my earlier post, they alone could put out a heckuva paper.
I'll update with length of service if people send it along:
- Josh Bell, movie critic for the Las Vegas Weekly and podcaster of "Josh Bell Hates Everything" for the website. 7 years service.
- Ron Kantowski, sportswriter for the Sun.
- Mary Manning, environmental writer for the Sun. There at least 20 yrs. I competed with her for stories when I covered Clark County government, and hence the Water District board, more than a decade ago.
- Steve Silver, sports writer for the Sun.
- Rob Miech, sports writer for the Sun.
- Bethany Acree, commercial designer, Greenspun Interactive. 2 years service.
- David Clayton, editorial writer, Sun. Part of Pulitzer-winning team now disbanded that included Drex Heikes (now LA Weekly editor) and Ali Berzon (now with WSJ).
- Richard Abowitz, writer-at-large for Las Vegas Weekly. Recently also lost his Los Angeles Times blog on Las Vegas to cuts there. Also, possibly the smartest writer and person I've ever met. He brings light reading like Proust to red-carpet events to pass time. Really.
- Jeff German, Sun columnist for at least 20 years. His reporting drove the criminal investigation into the death of Ted Binion. He also used to clash furiously with then-R-J political columnist Jon Ralston.
- Abigail Goldman, Las Vegas Sun reporter. Broke the story of Nina Radetich's scandalous breach of ethics at KTNV. Hard to fathom that, as Castro survived 9 U.S. presidents, Radetich remains on the air and Abby's done.
- Jeff Simpson, In Business Las Vegas editor and a member of the "gang" of the Vegas Gang podcast. Also, occasional sparring partner of yours truly on Nevada Week in Review.
- Melissa Arseniuk, LasVegasSun.Com pop culture writer. Met her covering the O.J. Simpson trial last year, which she Tweeted gavel to gavel for the paper in the first known use of that in Las Vegas. Saw her last night at the Vdara opening and she was upbeat and hopeful.
- Jerry Fink, entertainment writer and show reviewer for at least 15 years.
- Jeff Haney, poker and gambling columnist. Just sat next to him through 21 hours of the Final Table of the World Series of Poker last month and have relied on him for years to provide expert commentary to my poker-related stories.
- Timothy Pratt, minority affairs reporter for the Sun. Tim's probably the only -- or at least one of the few -- bilingual journalists in the Las Vegas mainstream press. Of all these people, the R-J would be wisest to snap him up for the value-added skills and how important covering minority issues and immigration will be in coming years in Las Vegas.
- Brenden Buhler, the quirk-finding Sun writer whose stories I have linked to repeatedly because they're always original and funny. Three favorites: battling his swamp cooler, beard-trimming mania and resale graves. 3.5 years service.
- Mark Whittington, assistant managing editor.
- Nicole Lucht, In Business Las Vegas and Sun business writer.
- Sam Skolnik, City Hall reporter. 3.5 years service.
- Billy Steffens, LasVegasSun.Com multimedia producer who Tweets here and who came in on Saturdays to help Emily and me produce "The Petcast" at the Sun's podcast room until we decided to return to LVRocks.Com.
- Chris Mason, GMG software developer
- Chris Morris, Sun illustrator and art director
- Mark Damon, Sun director of photography.
- Brian Sodoma, special publications writer for In Business Las Vegas. 4 years service.
- Pat Teague, editor of RalstonFlash, Jon Ralston's daily email blast and managing editor of special publications. 1.5 years service.
- Paul Szydelko, Las Vegas Magazine senior editor and former manager of the late Henderson Home News. 22+-years service.
- Marcia McMillan, receptionist
- Keyanna Stewart, photo/graphics technician *
- Joe Boswell, marketing creative director.
- Beverly Poppe, GMG/Las Vegas Weekly photographer.
- Richard Serrano, Sun federal agencies reporter.
- Natasha Shepard, Web producer.
- Scott Den Herder, Sun multimedia producer
- John Paul McDonnall, copy editor, edited parts of the Pulitzer-winning series.
- Fred Cohen, copy editor, edited of the Pulitzer-winning series.
- Colleen Smiley, Vegas Magazine deputy editor.
- Jamie Delaney, executive assistant to Greenspun web guru Rob Curley.
These are in no particular order and I'm happy to add more information about each -- as well as additional names -- when they come available.
[Disclosure: I write a column for the Las Vegas Weekly, owned by Greenspun Media Group.]
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
I don't know all the details yet, but when I learn from sources today that some of my favorite Vegas writers -- Richard Abowitz, Jeff German, Abigail Goldman, Jeff Simpson (right) and Melissa Arsenuik -- have lost their jobs, I shudder for Las Vegas journalism.
It's not even that Greenspun Media -- owners of Las Vegas Sun, In Business Las Vegas, Las Vegas Weekly, Vegas Magazine, Vegas.Com and other entities -- fired as many as 25 employees that gets me, though. That's depressing but many of the company's publications have been money-losers and civic duties for the Greenspun family for a long, long time. It's probably been many decades since the Sun has made a dime in profit. If ever.
These are good people, really, and their investment in media over the years has never paid them a profit in any way other than helping to keep the public informed and entertained. The family money comes from many other sources -- real estate, largely, as developers of Green Valley -- and many millions have disappeared into these publications and efforts.
So if the hemorhaging became unmanageable, it's tragic and a sign of the times. Nobody, not even a billionaire, owes anybody a job when the money is vanishing at the rate I suspect it has been for some time.
With all due respect to the Greenspuns, whom I work for as a columnist for the Las Vegas Weekly, whoever crafted this thing announcing the changes within their media conglomerate has done a tremendous disservice to the many people whose hundreds of years of collective service to the company just ended. Here's how it starts:
Local media divisions of The Greenspun Media Group today announced that they will reorganize and move into a single location, with the goal of fully integrating print and interactive operations.
These steps are intended to position the company to better meet the Las Vegas area's rapidly evolving informational and marketing needs and create a sustainable business model for the future, said Brian Greenspun, chairman of The Greenspun Corporation and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.
“Today's move reflects our commitment to traditional media and our increasing commitment to the potential of the digital age,” Greenspun said.
So far, so good, right? They're changing with the times, consolidating, improving efficiencies, blah blah blah. Neat-o! It's not until the eighth paragraph that we get to this:
“We truly regret the loss of jobs in our family and in our community,” said Greenspun. “We are grateful to these fine people for the contributions they have made over the years. But we must face up to both the challenges and the opportunities of the world we’re living in. We feel it’s time to unite our media into a more progressive and audience-driven model.”
Uh, wow. What were the first 50 years or so of GMG if not "audience-driven"?
But more significantly, you're laying off a large group -- unspecified for unspecific reasons, which is weird, too -- of people. Again, that's your prerogative and understandable if brutal in this environment and given the time of year, but at least do them the dignity of not depersonalizing. Don't bury this grave human cost so far into the press release that it's presented as an afterthought. Don't act as though this is all for the best, that the product you're producing will be better for it and not reduced and less substantial.
We expect this sort of spin from normal corporations and politicians. How refreshing would it have been to get something from a MEDIA company that looks like this:
See? Then go ahead and do the shiny-happy about how these changes will impact the product, integrate, whatever. But what they put out today was obvious face-saving fluff -- and who do they think they're kidding? You fired dozens of people. Own that.
What's even odder yet is that while the news release doesn't give specific names or numbers, neither does the Associated Press news story that is appearing on LasVegasSun.Com! They need to use wire copy about their own fiscal drama? I mean, the fact that Jeff German, a columnist at the Las Vegas Sun for many decades, is no longer in the paper is shocking. That would be news all by itself.
I write all this knowing full well I may offend the powers that allow me the joy -- and I mean that seriously -- of my Las Vegas Weekly column. I hope not. But I have been fired before and I feel a great kinship for the folks who have lost their jobs, a kinship that Hank Greenspun certainly would have understood and appreciated. And they could have been treated better publicly.
So far, three of my pieces are already up and available. They include two for the newly constituted Portfolio.Com, a 1,300-word profile of CityCenter president Bobby Baldwin and a 900-word piece on the financial woes that preceded these openings. Both are full of fun, new information, such as when Steve Wynn talks about why Baldwin, not Lanni or Murren, ought to have become MGM Mirage CEO. Scour the Web and you're unlikely to find any real profiles of Baldwin, so I'm honored to bring to you a look at one of those figures whose career from WSOP champ to Wynn lieutenant to CityCenter guru threads modern Vegas history in a unique way.
The other is a standard-issue piece overviewing the project and reporting that it's opening for Agence France-Presse. It's fine, nothing special, typical wire-service stuff.
Coming soon: My 4,100-word L.A. Weekly cover story, my LV Weekly column and at least one Sphere.Com story. Don't know if the New York Times is going to want anything or not; they don't seem to have a freelance budget anymore. Hope that changes early next year, but in the meantime I'm thrilled to be making headway in all of these new markets as I'd never written for the LA Weekly or Portfolio before.
Meanwhile, I offer up this sensational dusk view of CityCenter from the 22nd floor of my now-vacant Panorama condo. (Looking to rent? Email me!)
Monday, November 30, 2009
Dec. 1: Doyle Brunson Loses A Bet......and Norm Clarke answers The Question!
Even if you know or care nothing about professional poker, it is hard to imagine you’ve never come across the name Doyle Brunson. Poker’s elder statesmen was there when Texas Hold ‘Em came into being, was there when the concept of the poker tournament was invented and was there when they added hole-card cameras to poker tables to make it interesting for TV viewers to follow the action. Now, at 76, he’s published a surprisingly frank autobiography appropriately titled “The Godfather of Poker” in which he reveals the violent early days of his gambling life, his strained relationship with his father and much more. When Steve spoke to two-time World Series of Poker Main Event champ this week, he opened up some more about the Binion family, mob enforcer Tony Spilotro, Annie Duke, Joan Rivers and Phil Hellmuth, among others. Plus, Steve did the seemingly impossible – he won a bet off Doyle.In Banter: USA Today’s CityCenter piece, New Year’s Eve is back on top, Harrah’s is buying P-Ho but with what?, Hash House A Go Go is opening a Strip location and more.
Buy Doyle Brunson’s biography "Godfather of Poker" or the classic "Super/System" on Amazon.Com
Doyle Brunson’s online poker home, DoylesRoom.Com
The LeRoy Neiman painting in Bobby’s Room at Bellagio up close
The USAT piece on CityCenter
Rich Velotta’s Las Vegas Sun natural-light-in-Aria casino piece
The piece on the Four Seasons from the NYT that may explain the Mandarin Oriental’s pricing approach, too
The Las Vegas Sun on Harrah’s trying to buy Planet Hollywood
The Review-Journal on the announcement that they’re setting NYE fireworks off on the roof this year
PlanetMoney from NPR, which Miles listens to
The site for Hash House A Go Go, which is looking for a Strip locale
Norm Clarke gives FiveHundy.Com credit for breaking news that HHAGG is opening at the IP
Norm ferrets out the Vegas connection to Tiger Woods
Anna Quindlen’s classic, brilliant Wayne Newton plagiarism column
Goodman's response: "If I offended anybody, I apologize. That’s not my style, that’s not my nature to offend people. If that’s how it was taken, I'm sorry."
What's been puzzling about the incident is when and where it took place. I've watched the video a few times trying to identify the ballroom decor, but I've failed. I think it's the Bellagio or maybe Wynn, but it's really hard to tell. Any hard-core Vegasophiles take a stab at it?
Goodman declined to say precisely where and when it was, although he said it was a few weeks ago. He also refused to say what charity was involved because "I don't want to cause them any trouble," but he seems to recall the item out for bid was ... the Mayor.
"It was no big deal. It was nothing when it happened. Apparently someone took a video on a cell phone cam and then they sent it around. Had they called me and asked me, I would have made amends for it. It’s the easiest thing in the world to do is say I’m sorry."
Goodman, however, doesn't even remember mentioning Bette Midler, whom he has never met. He said that he only referenced the singer because the woman resembled her, not because Bette is short and fat. Or at least fat, since she's definitely short. But that's my comment, not his. Here's more of his:
"I don’t recall saying anything about Bette Midler. I thought I was saying about something about the woman who was buying me at the event. I certainly hope I wasn’t calling the woman fat and ugly in a vein where she thought I meant something about her."
Gosh! Why would she get a CRAZY idea like that?
I also asked the mayor if the incident and others like it impact him as he weighs whether to run for governor.
"Not at all. People know me, they know what I'm about. This is a nothing."
And, finally, I had to ask. Was he drinking that night?
"I drink every night."