Mona Shield Payne
Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010 | 2 a.m.
John Unwin left a high-profile job as general manager of Caesars Palace last year to lead the $3.9 billion Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, a 2,995-room property that opens Wednesday. It will be the last of the boom-era luxury resorts on the Strip to open for years to come. Unwin was previously chief operating officer of Ian Schrager Hotels, a company that pioneered hip, boutique hotels in major cities, and has held management jobs with Westin, Marriott and Fairmont hotels.
What’s it like being part of a startup?
A year ago there were three of us and now we have hundreds a day going through training. We’re not saddled with legacy systems and old ways of doing things. We can make decisions more quickly, and we have an indie spirit.
Why did you take on such a high-risk venture?
I see the potential for a high reward. And I’m always focused on what could be. We have a huge task ahead of us, to get people to understand us and why we’re different. But it’s incredibly exciting.
How much of you is in this resort?
I’m a student of popular culture and design. I’m a voracious reader and, when I travel, a close observer of what resonates with customers around the world. My traveling and my work experience in Las Vegas and other places have helped shape what we’re presenting.
Modern art is a big part of the Cosmopolitan, though it doesn’t draw well in Las Vegas. Do tourists care about art?
People will make a special visit to see some of the art, like the video columns in the lobby. And some of it will be a pleasant surprise. You might not seek out our steampunk owl sculpture unless you’re into that. But you will see it and say, “That’s pretty cool.” People care about having unique and interesting experiences. But they don’t want the art pushed in their face.
Does Cosmopolitan have a must-see attraction?
The rooms with terraces overlooking Las Vegas are like fantasy high-rise apartments. Thousands of people are going to walk by the incredible Chandelier Bar near the lobby. But I think people also will come for the artists in residence, the neighborhood of restaurants and the live entertainment on the casino floor, which will be like nothing else in town.
How do you counter talk that Las Vegas doesn’t need more competition right now?
Las Vegas is an incredibly resilient place, though it’s been through some tough times the last couple of years. This is an opportunity for everyone to sharpen their game, which will be good for Las Vegas. Elaine Wynn called me and said, “I’m really happy for you.” That was the general spirit in Las Vegas a few years ago and I’m glad there’s still some of it left.