Wednesday, September 07, 2011

[Travel] Grasping for Vegas

Grasping for Vegas: It's been an outlier of a year for me, especially in the realm of travel. Basically I've done little and what I have done hasn't really been anything all that new. I even missed my traditional Memorial Day in Manhattan and Labor Day in Chicago jaunts, primarily due to the house and other scheduling issues. So naturally I am desperate to at least renew my longest standing tradition: Thanksgiving in Vegas. Especially since things in Vegas seem to be penduluming back to the upswing.

There has been a spate of interesting news that suggests that the doldrums that set in after the overbuilding around the turn of the millennium might be over. You'll recall that several years ago, everyone had huge plans for sprawling development complexes. The Harrah's group had something called Echelon Place planned on the north strip designed to compete directly with City Center, which was going to be MGM's attempt at recreating the Greenwich Village mid-Strip. George Clooney and a group were putting together plans for a resort along Harmon corridor (the "hip strip", gag me) which was going to require coat and tie and bring a taste of old school class back to Vegas. Hilton and Marriott had luxury hotel plans. Not surprisingly, virtually all these dreams popped along with the real estate bubble. The hit was doubled when Macau came on as a high end gambling destination, robbing Vegas of a chunk of Asian business.

Some projects managed to survive, although the reasoning behind not axing them may have been questionable. City Center morphed from a high concept remake of Manhattan into a set of hotels and shops, but at least it made it. One of the hotels, Aria, stole a good deal of high-stakes poker mojo from Bellagio, and another super-high ender, the Mandarin Oriental, set a new standard for the casino-less traditional luxury set, which had previous been owned by Four Seasons. It also ended up with an independent neighbor, The Cosmopolitan, designed to complete with Wynn and featuring the only rooms on the strip with balconies. Everything else was pretty much cancelled or is sitting in limbo like an underwater house.

But, there are signs of life. A number of properties took the opportunity to do full on renovations (The Tropicana on the Strip and the Plaza downtown). A number of places re-did their rooms (Bellagio, Mirage, some MGM). Caesars is opening a new tower in January. But the big project that appears as though it may see the light of day is The Linq. A truly stupid name, but this is Caesars half-a-billion dollar renovation of the area surrounding the Flamingo, O'Sheas, and Imperial Palace (Dr. Hahn's evil fortress) -- you may know the area as Carnival Court. If you ever walked the Strip in that area you know there is a point where you are required to snake through a deeply annoying open air shopping center with cheap carnival booths and a decent outdoor bar with mediocre live bands playing (although there is a Ghirardelli's). Apparently the plan is to turn that into a full on outdoor shopping/social area that contains the world's largest observation wheel.
When that's all sorted out and The Linq makes its debut in June 2013 (fingers crossed, altho, Caesars says the project is already fully funded), it will feature up to 40 restaurants, bars, retailers and nightlife options. But, where the brilliance may lie is in the percentages. The Linq will be 70 percent restaurants and bars, many featuring rooftop lounges and open air dining. i.e., the perfect stopping point for tourists on foot looking for a bit of refreshment after wandering The Strip. Caesars' own numbers say some 20 million folks walk past that location a year. ka-ching
More info is here.

70% of 40 = 28 bars and restaurants. Niiiice. That won't help me until 2013 or so, but it's good that things are looking up. For now I'm anxious to check out the new hotels and restaurants this November.

Lastly, I find I am going to have to hate Bill Barnwell from Grantland, and formerly of Football Outsiders. He has apparently up and moved to the Strip to gamble on football and write about it full time. Yes, I hate him. Righteously so.