Living in Vegas: On the New City Center


City Center is home to the hottest new addresses on the Las Vegas Strip, offering three reasons to rethink the question: But would you really want to live there?

There are reasons to visit Las Vegas—casinos, pool parties, Cher—and there are reasons to go back—shopping, dining, Elton. But since mega-development City Center opened late last year, there are now reasons to stay even longer—impressive art, sustainable design, notable architecture and luxurious spas. If it sounds antithetical to the destination’s Sin City reputation—not to mention the “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” campaign—that’s the point. A joint venture between MGM Mirage and International developer Dubai World, City Center is built on 67 acres between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo casinos, but it feels miles away in spirit.

City Center is made up of a cluster of showstopping LEED Gold–certified buildings: Aria, a 4,000-room casino resort; two non-gaming hotels, Mandarin Oriental and Vdara; a pair of leaning condominiums appropriately named Veer; and the inappropriately named ultra-luxe shopping center, Crystals. Displaying a 17-piece art collection of large-scale installations, including works by Jennie Holzer, Maya Lin, Claes Oldenburg and Frank Stella, the community is connected by a tram system and pedestrian walkways. To continue the name-dropping theme, the design team (led by Gensler) included eight world-renowned architects, the likes of Daniel Libeskind, César Pelli, David Rockwell and Rafael Viñoly. While it’s a far cry from the usual spectacles of the Strip, City Center still boasts that infamous address—but you would never realize that once you’re inside the compound and touring one of the three real estate options.

At the top of the heap is the only branded property at City Center; the Residences at the Mandarin Oriental
start at $1 million for a one-bedroom unit. (A bargain compared to the brand’s NYC location, where a two-bedroom goes for around $5.5 million.) Designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox architects with interiors by Kay Lang +
Associates, the 225 units are spacious and serene, and can be specified with a variety of Asian-themed finishes: “Magestic Pearl” is all white with a black Venetian plaster ceiling and accents of red lacquer; “Sovereign Jade” is a more subdued, sophisticated palette of neutrals. Every unit comes with European kitchens and soaking tubs, but the real luxury is found next door in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. With seductive interiors by Adam D. Tihany, the hotel’s 27,000-square-foot spa features a wood-paneled fitness center, and the dining options include Twist, from three-star Michelin chef Pierre Gagnaire. A few early buyers opted to merge two units for a super-size residence, so it seems that the Vegas notion of living large has already taken root.

A short tram ride away on the opposite end of the community is the arc-shaped 57-story Vdara, designed by Rafael Viñoly. The non-smoking condo-hotel has 1,500 furnished suites, all for sale starting at $450,000 (for approximately 500 square feet). As part of a rental program, owners have the option to lease their units back to the hotel’s nightly inventory. The main draw of Vdara is its proximity to the Strip (it’s actually attached to the Bellagio), and its daytime scene: celebrities have been spotted tanning at the pool and getting pedicures at the 17,000-square-foot spa. In stark contrast to its playful atmosphere, the Vdara lobby is home to a serious art collection, with works by Frank Stella and Robert Rauschenberg, as well as Peter Wegner’s color panels made up of thousands of sheets of paper.

A tram ride back toward the Mandarin Oriental stops first at Crystals, the sculptural 500,000-square-foot mall designed by Studio Daniel Libeskind and David Rockwell that is filled with designer boutiques and a second location of Eva Longoria Parker’s Beso restaurant (the setting for recent reality-show shenanigans). Sprouting from one side of Crystals is Veer, a pair of 37-story yellow condominium towers housing 670 loft-like residences that start at $350,000. Designed by Chicago architect Helmut Jahn, Veer is geared toward younger buyers with its rooftop pool and sun decks.

If City Center’s dedication to modern art (there’s a gallery in Crystals, currently showing dozens of works by Dale Chihuly) is surprising, its commitment to sustainability is shocking. The first green development on the Strip, City Center was intended to be a cleaner, kinder Vegas destination since the project broke ground in 2005. Eighty percent of the demolition materials from the existing properties were recycled and new buildings were constructed with energy efficiency and water conservation in mind. A natural gas co-generation plant produces 10 percent of the electricity, and slot machines have built-in ventilation units. Marquees use LEDs, and the plumbing fixtures are pressurized to use a third less water. With certified-sustainable wood selected for furnishings throughout, City Center was voted the FSC’s best commercial project of 2009. Even the customized scent of the air piped into Aria is a secret blend of organic essential oils.

Though it hardly seems eco-friendly to champion the addition of more glittering signs, swimming pools and steel buildings to the Nevada desert, this is surely a step in the right direction for Las Vegas.

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