by Leo Jakobson | February 05, 2014
 If Las Vegas has one constant, it is that its resorts and entertainment options are always changing, expanding, and working to top the last big “wow.”

For all that, there is a lot going on right now in Las Vegas “even by Las Vegas standards,” says Chris Meyer, vice president of global business sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). “We’ve been reinvesting in our properties to the tune of $6.6 billion over the last year and a half, and more is continuing. It’s a five-year plan. I don’t know of any other destination that is doing that.” 

The biggest change coming this year is undoubtedly Caesars Entertainment’s 550-foot-tall, London Eye-style observation wheel that is remaking the skyline of the Strip. Called the High Roller, it anchors LINQ, Caesars’ 200,000-square-foot, $550-million outdoor retail, dining, and entertainment district across from Caesars Palace. The outdoor playground is revolutionary — pun fully intended — in that it breaks one of the cardinal rules of the casino industry: always keep them on property. Partially open, The LINQ is in the style is an urban city street, with individual buildings of varying styles. There will be an emphasis on outdoor dining patios and rooftop lounges, it will also have a fountain that can double as a stage, and all the tenants are either new to Las Vegas (excluding one Starbucks) or flat-out new businesses.

Caesars Entertainment isn’t the only company discarding that particular piece of the past. MGM Resorts International is building a new $350-million, 20,000-seat, state-of-the-art arena for sporting events, headline entertainment, and special events. Groundbreaking is planned for next summer, with a spring 2016 completion date. This will be the centerpiece of a project that will transform the front facades of New York-New York Las Vegas Hotel & Casino and Monte Carlo Las Vegas Resort & Casino into an outdoor plaza featuring a series of casual bars, eateries, and retail destinations. 

As the economy improves, incentive planners have been taking note. “The Las Vegas luxury market is showing a significant return,” says Jacqueline Goldy, vice president of global sales for MGM Resorts International, which has 14 properties on the Strip. “You’re seeing a big increase from the financial markets and insurance markets, and telecommunications also remains very strong. Automotive is really coming back, too. You’re also seeing incentives are being tied, pre- or post-, to a larger meeting.”

That’s not just true in Las Vegas. 

A recent study by the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) found that while companies aren’t increasing program lengths, they are “increasing non-meal elements,” says Lynn Randall, managing director, Randall Insights LLC and education director of the IRF. “There’s about a 20-percent increase in program components other than food and beverage.”

Goldy agrees, noting, “You’re seeing people going to the spa, and going to play golf, and dining in the world-famous chefs’ restaurants we have in Las Vegas. Bringing in entertainment is really on the rise, too.”

Lenny Talarico, director of events for MGM Resorts Events, says that during the past year, he has noticed a “willingness to spend on items that might be deemed a luxury, or had been considered a luxury a few years ago. Certainly, we are seeing more spending on entertainment — even headline entertainment. We’ve had several bookings this year with groups that were willing to spend for that.”

Talarico is working with a national sales meeting that will bring about 100 top performers to Las Vegas in early February and will feature a Super Bowl party. “They want to have their own unique halftime experience,” Talarico says. “We’re going to bring a headliner in that is going to do a 30-minute unplugged spot for them.” Among the entertainers being discussed are Pat Benatar, LeAnn Rimes, and Kenny Loggins.

New and Renewed

The city is also seeing the revitalization of the Strip’s north end, anchored by the new SLS Las Vegas opening next year, and the massive new Resorts World Las Vegas that Malaysia’s Genting Group is preparing to build. That is only the beginning of the new entertainment, dining, and meeting-facility offerings rolling out in the destination in coming months.

Located on the site of the old Sahara hotel is the brainchild of Los Angeles-based nightlife and dining impresario — and recent hotelier — Sam Nazarian, whose sbe Entertainment Group is building the SLS Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. The new property will showcase several of sbe’s iconic partners, notably designer Philippe Starck — who will oversee every aspect of the property’s core design — as well as famed chef José Andrés and sushi chef Katsuya Uechi. The 1,622-room SLS Las Vegas will have a sleek, yet elegant, luxury boutique style.

Next up is Malaysia’s Genting Group, the creator of the massive Resorts World Sentosa project in Singapore. Its Resorts World Las Vegas plan calls for an 87-acre, multi-billion-dollar, Asian-themed resort complex project with eight hotels offering a combined 3,500 rooms, a half-million square feet of convention space, a replica of the Great Wall of China, more than 300,000 square feet of pool and water features, and a variety of luxury dining, entertainment, and retail offerings. There is even a planned panda exhibit. The project, which is still being finalized, aims for a 2016 completion date. 

Over on the south side of the Strip, the newly reflagged, 1,600-room Tropicana Las Vegas — a DoubleTree by Hilton, recently completed a $200-million, top-to-bottom renovation, creating a casually elegant resort with a South Beach vibe. Work included a redesign of every room and suite, as well as the gaming areas, several new restaurants and lounges, 72,000 square feet of meeting and event space, the debut of Glow, a Mandara Spa, and a fitness center.

Caesars Entertainment has two new properties coming in as a result of the LINQ project. A new 185-room luxury boutique hotel, The Cromwell, will rise on the site of the former Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon. The Strip's first stand-alone boutique hotel, it will feature the first restaurant from Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis — with an outdoor patio space offering views of the Fountains of Bellagio — as well as Drai’s Beach Club and Nightclub, a three-story, 65,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor nightclub and rooftop pool by nightlife impresario Victor Drai. The new Quad Resort & Casino has replaced what used to be the Imperial Palace, bringing a multimillion-dollar makeover to its 2,600 rooms, a new façade, and a 7,000-square-foot restaurant from celebrity chef Guy Fieri. Within Caesars Palace, the 181-room boutique hotel-within-a-hotel, Nobu Hotel Caesars Palace, is now open above the 12,775-square-foot Nobu Restaurant & Lounge.  

The Delano Las Vegas will bring the South Beach style of Morgans Hotel Group’s brand to the Strip next year, replacing the 1,100-suite THEhotel at Mandalay Bay. Construction is set to begin in March and wrap in the third quarter. 

The Palms Casino Resort got a $50-million renovation, including the complete redesign of all 428 Palms Tower rooms (out of 702 total) with a new ultra-chic, modern style, including custom artwork. Gaming spaces were completely overhauled, and a number of new restaurants and nightclubs were added. The most recent feature is the relaunch of Ghostbar on the Ivory Tower’s 55th floor. 

Renovated in 2011, the Wynn Las Vegas and its all-suite sister property, Encore Las Vegas, recently had the 45,000-square-foot, Forbes Five-Star Spa at Wynn redesigned by highly regarded designer Roger Thomas. The 45-treatment-room spa reopened in September. 

The M Resort has added 14 new M Experience Rooms, which offer a spa-like environment with amenities like guest-controlled aromatherapy, 
a live lavender plant, a Vitamin C-infusing showerhead for skin conditioning, 500-thread-count linens, Spa Mio bath products, and a welcome bowl of fruit. 

On the entertainment side, Blue Man Group unveiled a new show with both classic and new material at the group’s 1,200-seat theater in the Monte Carlo. And in June, Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson ONE” opened at Mandalay Bay. 

Off the Strip, in June, Ravella at Lake Las Vegas reopened with a new name and brand: the Hilton Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa. Part of the 3,600-acre Lake Las Vegas master-planned resort community, the non-casino resort has 349 guest rooms and 92,459 square feet of combined meeting and function space. And last year, the Loews Lake Las Vegas underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation and became The Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa. The 493-room property has 45,000 square feet of meeting space and 50,000 square feet of exterior function space. The Westin Lake Las Vegas also offers paddleboard jousting on the lake. 

Hot New Venues

Las Vegas has no shortage of places to hold a gala awards dinner, spectacular cocktail party, or other memorable special events. Here are some of the newest and hottest:

Groups with a penchant for organizing Iron Chef-style cooking competitions should note that this spring, Masaharu Morimoto, renowned chef and star of the Food Network’s Iron Chef America, will open Morimoto Las Vegas, a Japanese cuisine and sushi restaurant, at The Mirage Hotel and Casino. 

In that same vein, M Resort’s newest restaurant, Jayde Fuzion, is the brainchild of Seonkyoung Longest, who gained the chance to open the Mississippi-influenced Asian restaurant in the resort by winning the Food Network’s “Restaurant Express” show. The 150-seat restaurant also has a sushi bar and 20-seat private dining room. 

The VooDoo Rooftop Nightclub on the 51st-floor of the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino is introducing what has to be the grandest exit from any club on the Strip:  the VooDoo Zip Line between the Rio’s two towers. 

The Seascape Ballroom, located inside the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino’s Shark Reef Aquarium, opened in June. The 1.3-million-gallon exhibit is home to 30 sharks and other denizens of the deep. The 1,675-square-foot ballroom can hold up to 100 for cocktails, and has an adjoining, 175-square-foot patio and lounge. 

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas recently opened a new, 40,000-square-foot performance and event space, The Chelsea, which features what the resort calls an “unexpected combination of industrial grit and artistic glamour,” marrying “a sophisticated design approach with unparalleled functionality and flexibility.”

The Vdara Hotel & Spa at ARIA Las Vegas has transformed Silk Road into a 6,400-square-foot meeting space for up to 200, including a 3,700-square-foot junior ballroom and 900-square-foot breakout room. Features include floor-to-ceiling windows with views of ARIA Resort & Casino.

The nightclub as a venue

In Las Vegas, nightclubs are very big business. The world’s largest, at 80,000 square feet and five stories, is HAKKASAN, at the MGM Grand. 

During the day and early evening, these clubs make great special event venues. Décor and top-of-the-line A/V are built in.

Holding an early evening event in a nightclub, “gives a customers’ attendees an opportunity to get the feel of a nightclub without actually going to a nightclub,” says Chris Flatt, senior director of hotel sales at Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Las Vegas. 

At Caesars Entertainment, the company’s Alternative Venues program “allows planners to incorporate non-traditional venues like restaurants, lounges, and nightclubs into their programs and have a portion of their spend incorporated into their F&B minimums,” says Amy Allen, director of marketing.

At Caesars Palace, the 40,000-square-foot PURE Nightclub has a 14,000-foot terrace providing panoramic views from the middle of the Las Vegas Strip. 

At Wynn and Encore, the four nightclubs can even be used for what Flatt describes as a ‘club-around.’

The Palms has unveiled the newly renovated Ghostbar (pictured), with famous views of the Strip from its skydeck. 

New York-based TAO group has outposts of TAO Asian Bistro, Nightclub & Beach at The Venetian, and LAVO Italian Restaurant & Nightclub at the Palazzo. Asian-themed TAO’s décor is notable for its Buddhas, a 400-seat Asian restaurant, and water features including Japanese koi ponds. 

Over at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, the TAO group has Marquee Nightclub & Dayclub. The 60,000-square-foot, David Rockwell-designed Las Vegas venue has seven bars that transition patrons between three lavishly designed rooms with different types of music. The Cosmopolitan also opened the AvroKo-designed Rose.Rabbit.Lie. in late December, a restaurant, bar, and social club in one.