Sunday, November 29, 2009

City Center: The Extended Metaphor for Las Vegas

So The Sun has a big story today on City Center's grand opening. Jim Murren's putting on his confident face for the grand occasion. MGM Mirage continues to reassure us that Dubai World's debt crisis won't send Las Vegas' newest attraction crashing to the ground. So City Center starts opening this week and all of Vegas holds its breath.

I really think Jim Murren's heart was in the right place with City Center. Despite what all the critics are saying, it is exactly what Las Vegas needs. Until very recently Las Vegas has lacked an urban center, an artistic edge, and forward-thinking design. But now with City Center, we finally have something to call our own... Not just another carbon copy of yet another world landmark, but a stunning collection of postmodern architecture that we can really call our own.

It just seems like this was cursed with bad timing and bad financing. MGM Mirage has relied on Dubai World to help complete this project, but now Dubai is collapsing on its own debt load. MGM Mirage has also taken on more debt than it could handle in trying to monopolize almost all the west side of The Strip. In many ways, the tale of City Center so far is a reflection of the George W. Bush era of unbridled corporate greed let loose to cannabalize our economy.

I guess in many ways, City Center is a reflection of Jim Murren himself. We see his beautiful artistic side with the whimsical design of the buildings, the public art adorned all over, and the "green" defining this entire project. However we also see Murren's darker corporate side with the construction death scandals, the now hot mess with the Dubai World financing, and the constant reminder that the era of "New Vegas", started 20 years ago when Steve Wynn opened The Mirage and brought the "Wall Street Raiders" to conquer Las Vegas, has come to a brutal end here as we contemplate how to move forward in a "New New Vegas" with a more sustainable, both environmentally sustainable AND economically sustainable, future.

I still hope for success with City Center. We need some success in Las Vegas for a change. I guess I'm now also hoping that this become a wake-up call to all of us that Las Vegas needs to change. "Old Vegas" left the building long ago with its mafia history and Old Hollywood glory, and "New Vegas" didn't quite work out as planned, fueled as it was by unsustainable real estate speculation and "construction begetting construction" that was long doomed to fail. Now the cynics and skeptics that always predict the fall and demise of Las Vegas have somehow always been proven wrong, as we somehow always adapt for survival and undergo a metamorphosis to ultimately thrive. But that's just it, we succeed when we change what's wrong and do what's right.

Las Vegas could have died when the luster of the new railroad wore off, but instead we legalized gambling and made marriage (and divorce) so damned easy that almosr anyone could do it. Las Vegas could have died when World War II ended and the military build-up eased off, but instead The Strip was born and Hollywood glamour transformed our once sleepy outpost in the Mojave Desert into the cutting edge of "cool". Las Vegas could have died when the mob was driven out of town by the feds and the gaming regulators, but instead Howard Hughes ushered in a new era of "corporate casinos" that led Kirk Kerkorian to build bigger and inspired Steve Wynn to build better. Las Vegas could have died with the post-9/11 tourist slump, but instead this town became the "it destination" that's now made us the most visited place on earth.

I really think Las Vegas is at another turning point today. And interestingly enough, City Center may lead us to our future. We will be reminded of Wall Street greed gone wrong, but also inspired by eco-friendly design done right. We will be horrified by the massive corporate debt loads and shady "wheelin-dealin'" enabled by the corporate right and conservative wet dreams of hyper-deregulation, but we will also be awestruck by the moving public art that will encourage us to let our imagination run wild and free.

City Center now embodies Las Vegas. It tells the story of our past, warts and "beauty marks" and liposuctions and facelifts and triple bypass operations and all. It reflects our present, a jarring contrast of celebrity panache and inglorious economic collapse. It shows the way to our future, hopefully one that includes living in concert with Mother Nature and building a stronger community with a sound economy.

So let City Center open and start a new chapter in the great Las Vegas story.

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