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September 30, 2014

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New technology was key behind development of CityCenter’s Aria, president says

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Steve Marcus

Bill McBeath, president and chief operating officer of Aria, trusts that CityCenter will not cannibalize other Strip properties.

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CityCenter

A tram passes in front of Aria during a tour of MGM Mirage's CityCenter project Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009. Properties in the $8.5 billion project will open next month. Launch slideshow »

CityCenter: Vdara Ribbon Cutting

The Vdara Hotel and Spa grand opening press conference and ribbon cutting at CityCenter on Dec. 1, 2009. Launch slideshow »

The doors open Wednesday at Aria, the centerpiece of MGM Mirage’s new CityCenter development. The company turned the keys over to Bill McBeath, a UNLV Alumnus of the Year who joined the company in 1987.

McBeath held management positions at the Mirage, Treasure Island and Bellagio and took a leap of faith to leave Bellagio to take over as chief operating officer of Aria and Vdara, the nongaming condo-hotel that began the phased opening of the $8.5 billion Strip property on Dec. 1.

What keeps you up at night when you think about Wednesday’s opening?

Everything. There are 91 separate IT applications and a lot of them are first-generation. Innovation was a key development principle for us and we felt innovation had to do one of two things: increase operating efficiencies or enhance the guest experience.

What went through your mind when you first learned that your joint-venture partner, Dubai World, had sued MGM Mirage last spring?

It was a defining moment in my life but I was most worried about the people who trusted me. They left jobs to be on the team. I had the belief that CEO Jim Murren and our board of directors would see this through. I kept thinking, “Man, we’re so close … and the world is never going to see what we did.”

People say, “Just give me a great casino!” Is it enough to do just that?

We have a casino. It’s the anchor tenant and, I believe, the most spectacular casino ever built. Time will tell. We went through something similar at the Mirage. When it was built, people wondered whether we would make enough to pay for it. Mirage made money in retail, food and beverage, and entertainment. We made a million dollars a day in the casino on top of the other revenue.

Lots of people are expecting CityCenter to be a traffic nightmare. Why won’t it be?

Every single trash stop, warehouse and loading dock is below grade. We tried to replicate Fifth Avenue in New York and we did it without the cabs and delivery trucks. But people said, “Just wait until you get all your employees in there.” They forget that we had 10,000 construction workers and only two lanes on Frank Sinatra Boulevard for five years. Traffic is good, congestion is bad. I expect lots of traffic.

Isn’t the LEED Gold certification a somewhat hollow honor since you allow smoking on the property?

If you ban smoking, you eliminate 30 percent of the customer base. What the critics don’t know about is how efficient the casino air-displacement system in Aria is. In most casinos, you mix pollutants with the circulation system. With displacement, warm air rises and takes all the pollutants with it. In a test, we had everybody in a room smoking and just watched the plumes of smoke go straight up in the air.

Why are you confident that CityCenter won’t cannibalize other Strip properties?

Loyal customers at Bellagio will want to see Aria, but it won’t be for all of them, the same way that the Venetian, the Wynn and Encore have opened up but didn’t strip the Bellagio of customers. Any time we’ve added truly innovative properties to the Strip, visitation and gaming revenue on a percentage basis has exceeded the additional capacity. The rising tide lifts all boats.

A version of this story appears in this week’s In Business Las Vegas, a sister publication of the Las Vegas Sun.

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