Las Vegas Refresh

Sin City is undergoing some serious renovations including a $690 million makeover of one its trendiest, turned obsolete, turned trendy again hotels

When gangster Bugsy Siegel opened the Flamingo in 1946, it was the first large-scale casino-hotel project on a quiet stretch of Nevada desert. Today, Las Vegas is anything but quiet, with massive casino-hotels stationed like giant soldiers on the world-famous Strip.

Though the final cost of building the Flamingo was plenty hefty—$6 million, an exorbitant amount of money at the time—Siegel couldn’t possibly have imagined that another casino-hotel complex would one day eclipse his property in both cost and size. You could fit six Flamingos inside The Venetian…or MGM Grand…or City Center (which includes The Aria and Mandarin Oriental among its 5 towers). And Las Vegas as a whole is now home to 14 of the world’s 25 largest hotels.

But Vegas wouldn’t be Vegas if it wasn’t constantly tinkering with things—trying to build a better mouse-trap if you will. And while 2018 only saw one major hotel opening on the Strip (the Asian-themed Lucky Dragon), there are myriad renovations currently in progress as Sin City tries, yet again, to upgrade its status.

Here are the most notable renovations currently taking place on the strip.

Refurb Appeal

So, who’s hitting that refresh button? Rooms at Monte Carlo, Caesars Palace, Flamingo, Planet Hollywood Resort, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Harrah’s, Bally’s and Palazzo are all either already being refurbished or soon to be embarking on the process.

Caesars Entertainment Corp. is leading the charge, investing about $350 million to upgrade nearly 4,500 rooms at the Flamingo, Bally’s, Planet Hollywood, and Caesars Palace, according to a report by Oppenheimer. Meanwhile, The Cosmopolitan kicked off their new project early this summer, investing approximately $150 million to upgrade 2,800 rooms through 2018. Another notable renovation is taking place at the Palazzo, which is enhancing its rooms for the first time since opening its doors in December 2007.

(Palace Tower French Empire Villa at Caesars Palace) Courtesy: Caesars Palace Las Vegas

Now, recent occupants of the aforementioned might be scratching their heads over all this renovating of hotels in seemingly great condition. While it is true that some of them are simply seeking newer looking rooms, it’s also notable that Vegas’s popularity continues to flourish. Strip occupancy averaged a whopping 92 percent in 2017, thus giving operators more financial firepower to reinvest in their properties in 2018/19. And with business booming, Vegas’s elite are not stopping at just the rooms; they go big so their guests don’t go home.

MGM Grand, for example, is investing approximately $130 million into the expansion of its Conference Center. Once completed, the new space will connect to the existing conference center on all three of its floors and boast a courtyard that can be made available for private events. Other luxe additions include two new ballrooms, three junior ballrooms and 11 breakout rooms. Renovations, which began in June 2017, were completed in January of this year. Post-renovation, the entire second floor of the new Conference Center will be devoted to the brand’s Stay Well Meetings. Introduced by the MGM Grand in 2014, these are billed as the industry’s first wellness-focused meetings offerings, and are meant to offset the traditional stresses of business conferences by stimulating healthy, productive and creative work environments.

The New Monte Carlo

The approximately $450 million transformation of Monte Carlo, which will touch every element of the property, will include two distinct hotel experiences: a Las Vegas version of NYC-based Sydell Group’s widely acclaimed NoMad Hotel, and the launch of a new luxury hotel, Park MGM. In addition to fully redesigned and renovated hotel guest rooms, each hotel will feature innovative and exciting food and beverage experiences unique to the Las Vegas market, including the award-winning NoMad restaurant and renowned Italian marketplace, Eataly. Park MGM and The NoMad Las Vegas will become the final pieces of MGM Resorts’ complete neighborhood redesign of the central Las Vegas Strip, a project that has been in the works since the 2009 introduction of CityCenter.

Park MGM

Park MGM and Eataly entrance rendering | MGM Resorts International

According to a press release issued by MGM, “The design of Park MGM, an approximately 2,700-room luxury resort, will build upon the property’s history, incorporating its European design influences while retaining a powerful connection to The Park just next door.”

MGM’s plan to rebrand and redesign the outdated and somewhat dilapidated Monte Carlo into Park MGM and Nomad is undoubtedly a great decision. The Monte Carlo had become outdated, with virtually no synergies or historical cache to appeal to today’s visitors, young or old, to the Strip. However, based on a recent visit to the property (albeit in its unfinished form), it remains to be seen how much they can do with the underlying infrastructure to justify the kind of room rate increases they are hoping to achieve.

The comparison to ARIA’s tangible energy—which is sure to occur when you note the competition’s proximity and price differential on rooms (only about $100 more, and that difference may become even less once Park MGM is fully completed)—was stark and left an underwhelming impression. Admittedly, the upgrades to the casino floor were notable. I could clearly notice the three quarters of the casino floor that had been updated—new tables, slots, a more modern decor and an attractive circular, zinc-plated bar that would look nice on any casino floor. The overall vibe of the hotel is much more simplistic than one would expect, though, which might lend well for convenience but will do the property no favors in standing out among its grandiose rivals.

While MGM has noted that the hotel was “conceived to target a younger, well-traveled demographic seeking unique experiences and innovative design,” my observation did not meet those expectations. The clientele at the time of my visit was comprised of a variety of ages, with no single demographic more present than another. What I did notice, however, was that Park MGM had a decidedly non-gambling, more conservative, business-traveling type of visitor checking in. Indeed, walking through the long hallway from the Aria to Park MGM felt like walking from a Grand Hyatt into a Holiday Inn.

This spot is more virtue than vice, so if you are looking for easy access to the many new “park” restaurants adjacent to this space, a central location on the strip, and tasteful rooms, these quiet confines are sure to please—the addition of Nomad and Eataly (both of which are both scheduled to open later this year) not withstanding. For my money, though—and also those looking for an edgier, more Vegas-oriented scene—the hotel next door is a much better bet. And seeing that MGM has their name on both, I’m guessing they’re the rarity in this town who are going to come out even.

The Best for Last

Of course, none of these renovations are as impressive as the $690 million makeover currently taking place at the Palms Resort Casino. Opened in 2001, there was a time when Palms was the hottest place in Vegas. MTV’s “The Real World” filmed their 2002 season at The Palms, while celebrities like Britney Spears and Katie Perry have partied and recorded songs there.  But as to be expected in a transient town like Las Vegas, more impressive resorts begun opening on the strip, starting with The Wynn in 2005, Palazzo in 2007, Aria in 2009 and finally Cosmopolitan in 2010. Simply put, these newer resorts, with bi-level suites, celebrity chef-helmed restaurants and glitzy bars and nightclubs had a lot more to offer than the Palms. 

That is all changing now with a $690 million renovation—the most expensive in the city’s history—thanks to billionaire art collectors and fight promoters Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta who bought the resort for $312.5 million in 2016. “From dust to gold” has been Palms Casino Resort’s motto since it broke ground on the massive renovation in the summer of 2017 and now the first phase of this renovation will be on display when the resort makes it’s grand reopening on April 5th

The makeover includes redesigned rooms, suites, penthouses and the signature Sky Villas in the hotel’s 342-room Fantasy Tower. These one- and two-story villas have infinity pools and range from $25,000 to $45,000 a NIGHT and come with a chauffeured ride to and from the airport, 24-hour butler service, sauna, massage room and top-of-the-line amenities including Dyson hair dryers and a gym with Woodway Treadmills and Peloton bikes.

New restaurants inlcude Scotch 80 Prime, a steakhouse that will replace longtime Palms steakhouse N9NE; Shark, a new restaurant by Bobby Flay; and Greene St. Kitchen, a design-driven dining destination that pays homage to New York City’s SoHo neighborhood.

A new nightclub, APEX Social Club, has replaced Ghostbar, the Palms’ famous rooftop bar which has some of the best views in Vegas—and will continue to. The casino floor has also been redesigned and features perhaps the most talked about structure in Vegas right now—a freakin shark tank! “Unknown,” the 13-foot-long tiger shark divided into three parts within a steel tank and hoisted over the casino’s new center bar is a piece of art from British contemporary artist Damien Hirst’s Natural History series and has caused quite a buzz. Additional art by Damien Hirst, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Takashi Murakami, KAWS and even Banksy (located at Green St. Kitchen) will be featured throughout the property.