Las Vegas' CityCenter Brings Dubai to the U.S.

Las Vegas' CityCenter Brings Dubai to the U.S.

Vacation News » Vacation & Leisure Real Estate Edition | By Alma Kadragic | August 13, 2010 2:33 PM ET

(LAS VEGAS, NV) -- In the UAE we think of Singapore and Hong Kong as the cities that Dubai and Abu Dhabi are trying to imitate. However, a week ago when I arrived in Las Vegas for the first time, I recognized that while the economic power of Singapore or Hong Kong is indeed worth emulating by the UAE, the model for the look of Dubai and Abu Dhabi is Las Vegas. Only here among major US and world cities that I know are the visual extravagance and the daringness of construction typical of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

A good example is CityCenter, the huge state of the art development right in the middle of The Strip. Las Vegas Boulevard where the big hotels and shopping malls are located. CityCenter is new and big; it opened last December, 67 acres of hotels, residences, retail, and entertainment between the Monte Carlo and Bellagio hotels. At the center of CityCenter is the Aria Hotel with 4004 rooms over 61 floors, and a two-story spa, a lobby floor that goes on forever merging into the casino, bars, restaurants, and stores with works of art scattered everywhere.

CityCenter includes two other hotels, the city's first Mandarin Oriental and the Vdara Hotel & Spa, plus about 2400 apartments in the two Veer Towers, Mandarin, and Vdara. Between the hotels is Crystals, an angular silver two-story shopping and restaurant center. Crystals is not a place to save money. The stores are all boutiques like Prada and Gucci. Restaurants are equivalent luxury brands headed by Wolfgang Puck.

The components of CityCenter look like many buildings in the UAE. The scale of the project is akin to giant projects in Dubai like the artificial islands or the world's tallest building. Clearly, there seems to be some kind of cross fertilization going on. Some people in the UAE may be looking for architects to create projects that recall projects in Las Vegas.

And now with CityCenter, financial interests from the UAE are investing in the kind of property that is of a magnitude and ambition that they are familiar with at home. CityCenter is owned by MGM Resorts International and Infinity World Development Corporation, a subsidiary of Dubai World. In terms of luxury, architectural drama, and star quality, the CityCenter development fits into the style of what is being done in the UAE today. Money has not been spared. Everything is spectacular, shiny, and new.

Thanks to a friend's recommendation, I booked a room at the Aria online about a month ago for $144 including taxes. My room called deluxe - the lowest category available - featured a glass wall looking over CityCenter. Rather than the typical curtains maneuvered by one-foot rods or pull strings, the two curtains, one net, one blackout, that fully covered the glass were linked to controls on the wall: Open, Stop, and Close. This was part of the enveloping electronics in the room.

Lights are on individual and group switches, all dimmable. Privacy or service is not requested by the typical cardboard hangers that fall off the door. Electronic switches show Privacy in red or Service in green outside the door - no chance of a housekeeper or mini bar attendant opening the door by mistake. The TV and everything screen must have been 56 inches in HD. In general service was outstanding.

One warning that applies to hotels in Las Vegas: If you're coming to Las Vegas for a convention or any situation where you will need to use a computer, bring your own. I'm vacationing in the US for a month, and I didn't expect to be doing much work, so I left the laptop at home and use my BlackBerry to keep up with email traffic. As I have done around the world, I counted on using a hotel business center or an internet café to produce a piece of writing like this column.

But that doesn't really work in Las Vegas. At Aria and then at Bellagio and some other hotels, I learned that while many things are affordable, internet access and use of a computer are not. Aria charges $1 per minute with a $15 minimum, and that doesn't change no matter how long you use the computer. If I worked at the computer for 90 minutes, that would cost $90, which seems ridiculous. I searched for internet cafes on the Strip, but they don't seem to exist. In one of the shopping malls I found standup computer kiosks which would be fine for checking email or sending a quick reply but inadequate for internet research and writing.

I can't imagine that anyone in the US in 2010 would want to construct the world's tallest building - New York had it for years, and we all know how that ended. But the World Trade Center twin towers were solid blocks like what child might play with. They were not twisted or leaning or modeled into syringe like tubes as is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, today's tallest building in the world.

In Las Vegas so far they haven't tried to build the word's tallest building. But they do have a hotel in the shape of pyramid, another which looks like a castle; Venice, Paris, and New York are hotels that look like replicas of landmarks associated with their namesake city. Other hotel buildings swoop or swirl. It's as hard to find the kind of simple rectangular skyscraper that is standard in American downtowns in Las Vegas, as it is in the UAE. Having seen Las Vegas, I'm not surprised that a major company from the UAE would want to invest here. Except for the casinos, Las Vegas must look very familiar to Emiratis.

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