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December 21, 2014

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Rich and famous towering above the masses

Wonder where the new, new Las Vegas is heading?

Consider: The most expensive condos in town, rising alongside the Strip as part of the largest private development in the nation's history, have nearly sold out in just two weeks.

And not a dime was spent to advertise them.

The brisk sales at Mandarin Oriental, at MGM Mirage's CityCenter, were triggered mostly by word-of-mouth and suggest that Las Vegas Boulevard is maturing beyond a weekend playground for the rich and famous and into a chic residential address.

Many buyers of Mandarin condos didn't bother to examine floor plans or interior design mock-ups. They simply plunked down more than $600 million in deposits for units costing up to $9 million each.

That may be a bargain along the elite boulevards of New York or San Francisco but sets a new barfor Las Vegas.

The Mandarin - a popular superluxury hotel in Asian capitals but with only four other U.S. locations -will feature 227 upper-floor condos, separated from 400 hotel rooms below by a private lobby. It is the first and smallest collection of condos for sale at CityCenter, which when completed at the end of 2009 will feature a $7 billion collection of five hotels and condo towers at the heart of the Strip, along with high-end shopping and dining.

Mandarin wasn't a hard sell. Customers started signing up for its condos two months before the company opened in January its $25 million, art-filled sales center.

Among the first in line: MGM Mirage executives, who also called family, friends and close business associates.

The company used a lottery system managed by an outside accounting firm to choose buyers from a pool of about 300 people seeking to reserve units.

"People were waiting to buy into this," said Tony Dennis, executive vice president of CityCenter's residential division. "People are buying into the future. How else to explain the pace of sales at these prices?"

MGM Mirage hasn't conducted exit surveys to learn customer demographics. But at least a third of the buyers have indicated that they intend to use the condos as their primary residence. Some are locals moving in from the suburbs - as well as from as far afield as London and Shanghai, China. For others, this will be their fourth or fifth home.

Companies are buying, too, to offer use of the condos as performance incentives and party pads, or for small conferences.

Prices for the Mandarin's two- and three-bedroom units range from $3.7 million for 2,065 square feet to more than $9 million for 4,259 square feet. The average price: about $3 million, or $1,584 per square foot - well above the $1,000 per square foot average being fetched in recent months by condo towers just off the Strip.

Buyers aren't necessarily big gamblers - but certainly will enjoy the clout and perks typically reserved for high rollers, such as discreet concierge services and other trappings of high life.

Dennis said the company was stunned by how fast the condos have sold.

With a 30-month sales window, "we would have been happy to sell these units over a longer period of time," he said.

Theirs is no ordinary sales spiel. There are no showgirls, no celebrity pitchmen or coupons for freebies.

The curious - who is to say whether they are looky-loos or serious prospects? - drive behind the sales pavilion next door to the Monte Carlo, and are greeted by valets who run to approaching cars and direct visitors to doormen. Inside, guests are offered an exotic tea, pastries and mango slices.

Customers are invited to view a five-minute video that shows architects and designers scribbling at drafting tables. A narrator introduces the project's lineup of renowned architects, suggesting that the collaboration to build CityCenter "will never happen again in our lifetime."

In the main room, a detailed model of CityCenter, which cost as much to build as a home, captivates visitors while the sales staff, like museum docents, purr with information about each tower. Overhead, a circular projection screen shows footage of the Las Vegas Strip, the desert and images of champagne being poured into a glass - a subliminal message, perhaps, about a consummated sale.

Sitting on a plush, curved couch facing sculptures by Isamu Noguchi and lulled by downtempo electronica background music, a black-haired woman in a silky purple dress tells a friend in a pinstripe suit and gelled hair that she's "just looking around." A blonde wearing rhinestone-speckled jeans and high heels whispers into a phone clipped to her ear before starting her tour.

"This is not an intense sales environment," Dennis said. "This is a quiet, slow and paced experience. We want people to linger and to capture their curiosity."

Mock-ups of various condos from each of CityCenter's residential towers are presented in side rooms. The rooms displaying the Mandarin Oriental options offer another video ("a tranquil retreat from the frenetic activity" of the Strip) and wall-mounted samples of exotic woods and swatches of nubby carpet (design collections include "Imperial Orchid" and "Sovereign Jade").

A vaguely floral scent wafts about while visitors stroll past potted jade trees and prints by New York artist Tara Donovan.

Voyeurs of conspicuous consumption can spy as buyers sign contracts in glass-enclosed offices decorated with prints by Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Rauschenberg and David Hockney.

"The sales center is exquisite. The presentation was very slick and finely detailed," said Arnold Stalk, an architect, developer and urban planner in Las Vegas. He said he intends to buy a CityCenter condo to entertain business clients and a second unit on behalf of a Beverly Hills, Calif., contractor.

During his second visit to the pavilion, Stalk and his wife met with a CityCenter sales agent with cover-model qualities in her stylish slacks, clingy white sweater and silver chain belt.

"It's very seductive," he said after the meeting. "They've got it all down pat."

If the sales staff is coasting now, the pavilion will become vital over the next 2 1/2 years as the company markets its remaining 2,500 or so residential units. But there is full confidence that a sell-out is inevitable.

The pavilion is already scheduled to be razed after CityCenter opens in November 2009

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