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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
April 27, 2015
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Betty Willis, Designer of Welcome to Las Vegas Sign, Dies at 91
It is, arguably, the most famous sign in the world and certainly the most "fabulous" - it is the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign that has been greeting visitors to Sin City since 1959. It was designed by Betty Willis, who died Sunday at the age of 91. Willis was a graphic designer from Vegas who trained in Los Angeles but moved back to her hometown and began doing design work for Western Neon, one of the main companies that did the neon signs for casinos around town. In May of 1959 she was asked to design the now famous sign and it was erected shortly thereafter (the official date is unknown but it is believed to have been around July of that year). Willis never copyrighted the design of the sign, preferring it to be public domain as her gift to the city. As a result, its shape and basic design have been copied extensively through the years on everything from advertising to souvenirs and it is instantly recognizable even without the words. Willis also designed the sign for the Moulin Rouge hotel that was open in the 1950s. May 5 will be designated as Betty Willis day in her honor. In a strange bit of coincidental timing, Brian Leming, the man who designed such neon masterpieces as The Stardust and Barbary Coast also died on Sunday - he was 74. The Neon Museum will be planning an honorarium to both artists soon.
9. Vegas Sign Gets An Upgrade
Speaking of the The Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, it just got a little bit easier to visit. An expanded parking lot and a new crosswalk protected by traffic signals debuted last week designed to ease access to the famed sign, which is located in the center median of the busy Las Vegas Strip just south of Mandalay Bay. 21 new parking spaces bring the total up to 33, which along with the new crosswalk should help cut down on the number of people parking in adjacent business lots and dodging traffic to get to the sign. Read more about the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign.
8. $1 Million Nightcub & Yacht Package From Drai's
Drai's nightclub on the roof of The Cromwell is already known for its extravagance. After all, this is the places that has the nightclub package that will fly you and 100 of your friend into town on a private 737 jet and give you a personalized fireworks show for only $737,000. Now they have upped the ante with their new Moby Dick package, which involves a party for 40 people at the club, 400 bottles of high end champagne, a plane ride to LA or Miami, and then a ride aboard a luxury yacht ending with a custom designed fireworks show over the water. The price? $1 million. And guess what... someone will pay it. Ah, the things rich people do with their money.... Read more about Drai's.
7. Rio Festival Ready to Rock
The big Rock in Rio music festival is undergoing its final preparations as the city prepares to welcome hundreds of thousands of people to the two-weekend event. May 8-9 is the rock music weekend with acts like No Doubt, Foster the People, Metallica, Linkin Park, Deftones, and more while May 15-16 is the pop music weekend featuring Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, Jessie J, Tove Lo, Charli XCX, John Legend, Joss Stone, and others. Cirque du Soleil, which is co-presenting the event, will also be performing a special piece featuring artists from its various Las Vegas shows. The festival is taking place in the City of Rock, a new venue that has been created on the formerly empty plot of land right across the street from the SLS Las Vegas at The Strip and Sahara. It has several stages, carnival rides, themed street scenes (United Kingdom, Brazil, United States) with food and merchandise vendors, a zip line that goes above the main stage crowd, and a massive enclosed VIP tent. The one thing it doesn't have is parking. Attendees will either need to walk, take the monorail, or buses that will be running from distant parking lots. There are still some single day tickts left if you are interested in attending. More info at rockinrio.com
6. Elvis Returns to Vegas
The big Elvis exhibition, show, and wedding chapel at The Westgate opened with a splashy media event last week attended by Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley. Graceland Presents Elvis features a 30,000 square-foot museum with memorabilia from the singer's career including costumes, cars, and more while a series of tribute shows is taking place in the main hotel showroom where Elvis performed in the 1970s when the place was called The International. The wedding chapel, disappointingly, will not feature Elvis impersonators performing your vows but one lucky couple did get a little Presley nonetheless. Kaycee Sativa and Cameron Baker of Oregon won a wedding package at the chapel from NBC's The Today show and were surprised by Priscilla Presley who acted as the bride's matron of honor. The Graceland Presents Elvis exhibition is open daily from 10am until 10pm and costs $22 for adults. Read more about the exhibition and shows.
5. JLo Rumors Kick Up Again
A possible Vegas residency by Jennifer Lopez has been rumored for almost a year now but the heat has been turned up on the gossip lately suggesting that we may be close to a formal announcement. According to John Katsilometes of the Las Vegas Sun, the singer will soon announce a residency at Planet Hollywood that will see her taking over dates at the Axis theater when Britney Spears isn't performing. No start date or ticket prices have been mentioned in the rumors but common wisdom places it sometime this summer and similar to Brit's shows ($59 up to $500). Read more about Planet Hollywood.
4. Speaking of Divas
Mariah Carey's residency at Caesars Palace starts next week. Called Mariah #1 to Infinity, the shows will feature Carey, one of the best-selling female artists of all time, performing 18 of her biggest hits in a new production designed specifically for Vegas. At this point, the production is a limited residency consisting of 18 shows across three months starting May 6 and run through July 26. Tickets range from $55 to $255 and are on sale now. Read more about Mariah Carey.
3. Sunken Bomber Open for Diving Tours Again
In 1948 a B-29 bomber flying a testing mission crashed into Lake Mead. All of its crew members made it out alive but the plane sunk to the bottom of the deep lake and lay undiscovered for over 50 years until local divers found it in 2001, nearly intact, resting upright on the lakebed. Now, adventurous types can go see the plane for themselves with Tech Diving Limited offering guided diving tours of the bomber, all under the blessing of the National Park Service, which is limiting the number of divers to only 100 per year. Because of the severe drought, the plane is at a depth of about 115 feet so a relatively easy dive for most folks. It costs $300 for a half-day tour or $450 for a full day and you can get more information at techdivinglimited.com.
2. Cirque du Soleil Sold
Cirque du Soleil is no longer a French-Canadian performance company - at least not from an ownership perspective. Guy Laliberte, the owner and one of the founding members of Cirque du Soleil, just sold majority interest to TPG Capital of Texas, which in turn is handing over a partial ownership stake to a Chinese company. Between them they control 80% of the famed circus. Laliberte's family trust will still maintain 10% of the company while a Canadian pension fund owns another 10%. The new owners plan to expand Cirque into China plus put new residency shows into New York and London. Laliberte is expected to gain about $1.5 billion from the sale.
1. Fight Weekend Expected to Be One of Vegas' Biggest
The big fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquino on Saturday, May 2, is expected to generate a huge number of people coming to the city to see the event and/or an as an excuse to party. Room rates are through the roof for the weekend with a night at the MGM Grand, where the fight is being held, going for $1,600 per night. And it's not just there. Rooms at Bellagio are $949 per night with a two-night minimum, Saturday night at Aria is $1,149, and even usually affordable hotels like Luxor and Monte Carlo are asking over $300 per night (which I guess is affordable by comparison, but still). Restaurants are getting in on the action as well with Crush at MGM Grand offering a $1,000 per person dinner with steak or lobster and an open bar that includes a closed-circuit broadcast of the fight. And if it's a celebrity filled party you're looking for, Vegas will be the place to be with Jay-Z scheduled to perform at Marquee nightclub at The Cosmopolitan, Nicki Minaj appearing at Chateau at Paris Las Vegas, Chris Brown at Drai's at The Cromwell, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis at Light at Mandalay Bay, and Calvin Harris spinning at Hakkasan at the MGM Grand among others. There are no tickets to the fight available but venues within the MGM Resorts family may have parties where they will be broadcasting it via closed-circuit. Read more about the MGM Grand.
Stories to Save Lives Event to Raise Awareness about Esophageal Cancer
I'm going to be taking a couple of weeks off from the Weekly Column duties but it's for a really good cause.
As many of you know, I was diagnosed with Esophageal Cancer in 2012 and am one of the lucky few to have survived it. It is the fastest growing cancer diagnosis among men in the United States and fewer than one in five survive longer than five years. Even scarier, it is caused by something so commonplace that most people don't pay enough attention to it until it is too late: acid reflux. This means that unlike many cancers, this one is preventable.
To raise awareness for the causes of EC and much needed funds for the Esophageal Cancer Action Network, I am Co-Chairing a big event in Los Angeles the weekend of May 1-2. Called Stories to Save Lives, it will see brave men and women rappelling down the 24 stories of the Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City, just opposite the main entrance to the Universal City theme park.
The weekend kicks off with a VIP reception on Friday, May 1 poolside at the Hilton for our rappellers, sponsors, and special guest and then the people start coming down the building at 10am on Saturday, May 2. We'll be having a festive day with food, a rock climbing wall for those not quite willing to do the big descent, entertainment, raffles including a two-night stay at Caesars Palace Las Vegas, and more at the event on Saturday and it is open to the public and free so if you're in the area come and say hi.
Here's an interview I did about the event and Esophageal Cancer: