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January 28, 2015

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Steve Friess: A fitting end to Vegas boom era

The Cosmopolitan

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas is seen on Dec. 13, 2010. Launch slideshow »

So this is how it ends, huh? Here we go, heading once again into yet another December casino-resort opening on the Strip. This time it’s the $3.9 billion Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, scheduled to start taking bets a year after the $8.5 billion CityCenter complex did so, two years on from the revelation of Encore Las Vegas and three years since Palazzo Las Vegas debuted.

It may seem like old hat, a tradition of sorts.

And yet, of course, this one is different. This is the last of it, the final hurrah wrung out of the Great Las Vegas Building Boom, which, in perfect Vegas style, lasted 21 years. When historians look back, they will see the Mirage in November 1989, all of the rest and then the Cosmopolitan, the final baby to come to term after an economic plague sterilized the city and callously slew even fetuses desperately close to birth, most notably the Fontainebleau.

The national press, myself included, will spend plenty of time in the next few weeks pondering the wisdom of the Cosmopolitan’s daring to even open. Detroit isn’t opening new car factories these days, but equally devastated Las Vegas goes all out with yet another gigantic resort? How can this be? I honestly don’t know, and it will be challenging to explain other than to say that it had gestated just enough when the plague hit, so its arrival couldn’t be stopped.

That said, I’ve toured the Cosmopolitan and I’m here to say that it may turn out to be a miracle baby. A year ago, I pitied anyone involved with it, coming along in the shadows of and squeezed between the behemoth of CityCenter and the enduring legend of Bellagio. A resort owned by an investment house, Deutsche Bank, was going to have even a vague clue how to compete with the consolidated, much-vaunted genius of the MGM Resorts brain trust? The Cosmo’s exterior architecture looks like an upright Brillo pad, for God’s sake.

And yet CityCenter has stumbled in spectacular ways, and the Cosmopolitan may end up giving it a second chance. The new place’s décor is sleek, sultry and modern, of course, but it also has the Manhattanesque feel that the whole of CityCenter was alleged to embody, but provides in only small, hard-to-find spurts. Cosmo is compact, easy to walk, fed by sidewalks and elevated pedestrian crossings that make getting in and out a breeze. With the exception of maybe the Flamingo and Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall, the Cosmo offers the shortest distance from the sidewalk to a slot machine on the Strip. It’s almost Fremont Street-like, but in a good way.

Unlike standoffish Aria, the Cosmo revels in its proximity to its neighbors. The Cosmo is so vertical, so narrow, so close to other structures — very cosmopolitan attributes, right? — that guests on higher floors can look down from their balconies to see the roofless top of the empty Harmon, CityCenter’s tragic hotel that may end up imploded before it even opens.

Can you tell I’m excited? And you should be, too. Savor this period of discovery, Vegas lovers. Nothing on this scale will happen again around these parts for probably another decade or more. We are about to enter a very long, fallow era during which the debut of a new restaurant, nightclub, show or Ferris wheel qualifies as the highlight of a year.

So this is how it ends, huh? Well, OK, then. Not a bad finale at all.

Steve Friess is a columnist for Las Vegas Weekly, a sister publication of the Sun, where this first appeared.

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  1. Steve is forgetting about Fontainebleu & Echelon. It will not be 10 years before they are completed and on-line. Over the 105 years of LV history, naysayers have been proven wrong time after time. In the 50s, the claim was that LV was being "overbuilt." Then came Atlantic City and LV was "doomed." Yeah, right. Somehow, LV always manages to bounce back. The times we live in will prove to be no exception.

  2. This is not the end of the Las Vegas "boom-era" by any means.And as far as your comparisons with Detroit,and the automobile industry and Las Vegas the two are similar only in being complete opposites.Detroit failed from lack of vision and lack of evolution.Las Vegas does not suffer from any of Detroits problems other than the slowdown brought on by wallstreet greed.Las Vegas has some problems,but as someone familar with the "Big 3"and Detroit,and as a regular to Las Vegas,the two are worlds apart.

  3. Things change. Bernanke said in 2005 that "the real estate industry has never dropped that much..."

    There is always the first time.

    Rome and the British empire went their way...

    Is there a "thousand year Reich" of Las Vegas....??

    The always bounce back theory is rooted in hope, not history.

    Nevada was built on government tax and spend...Mining Act, Transcontinental Railroad, Highway system, Hoover Dam, Military Bases...

    Heller, Heck, Ensign and Sandoval are against government

    ...projects will go elsewhere

  4. All the pundits and financial wizards forget, or just do not understand...Las Vegas, Nevada! Boom this! Down-turn that! End of an era! The sky is falling!!! They just don't get it! This is not Wall Street! Las Vegas offers something a person cannot get anywhere else. Las Vegas will be here, as long as people trade something of value--something of value to them, perception and expectations. Las Vegas has everything to offer that is deep in the minds of consumers. Las Vegas will do just fine.

  5. Beautifully said Steve. The opening of the Cosmopolitan truly marks the end of era. An era that started with the Mirage in 1989. Which begs the question, what will the next 20 years bring to Las Vegas? Hummm...

  6. Fontainebleau is never going to open and will be imploded at some point down the road. Considering how cheaply the property was acquired by Carl Icahn, he's better off imploding it and building something from scratch. Ichan bought it with little if any intention to open it.

    Echelon may have to start over from scratch as well. By the time Boyd Gaming restarts the project, they could potentially tweak the design based on what's happened with MGM Resorts with CityCenter. The original Echelon (Place) concept was similar in some respects to CityCenter with various non-gaming properties. If they were smart, they'd reboot this project completely and perhaps resurrect the Stardust name.

  7. They have a chance to compete very well with MGM and Caesars of Las Vegas, Steve. I know a lot of folks who are tired of the duopoly creating a "sameness" and lack of competition in Vegas. I'll pay a little bit more to avoid "deteriorating assets" and to gain a positive attitude.

  8. Las Vegas history begins long before 1989. The fact is that no major casino-resort opened on the Strip in almost 20 years prior to the opening of the Mirage. We'll be fine.