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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
January 11, 2016
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Vegas Breaks Visitation Record
If you visited Las Vegas in 2015 and it seemed more crowded than ever, you weren't imagining things. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority says the city welcomed more than 42 million visitors for the year, beating the all-time record of 41.1 million set just last year. They say it was mainly driven by new nonstop flights into the city and an increase in convention visitors. The bad news for those visitors is that the increased demand drove up hotel occupancy and room rates, making it harder to find rooms and more expensive once you did. The official 2015 report will be out in a few weeks.
9. T-Mobile Takes Over Arena
The 20,000 seat arena opening behind New York-New York and (whatever it's going to be called when it's done remodeling that isn't) Monte Carlo got an official new name: T-Mobile Arena. The sponsorship is the wireless carrier's first such venture and puts them on par with AT&T and Sprint, which have arenas in San Antonio and Kansas City respectively. T-Mobile says that their subscribers will get perks at the arena including discounts and pre-sales on certain tickets. The arena is expected to open April 6 with a concert from The Killers and Wayne Newton (not a typo). Learn more about The Park.
8. Hyde Lounge Set for Arena
Speaking of the arena, T-Mobile was not the only partnership announced in the last few weeks between it and a major player. SBE Entertainment, the folks that used to own the SLS, has inked a deal to bring their Hyde Lounge brand to the arena. The 18,000 square-foot space will include balconies overlooking the action inside and big windows looking at The Strip and the rest of Vegas outside. They will have bottle service, food, couches, DJs, and more, patterned after their similar lounge at the Staples Center arena in Downtown Los Angeles. It is set to open with the arena in April of 2016. In case you're wondering, The Hyde at Bellagio is staying put. Read more about Hyde Bellagio.
7. Trouble for New Vegas Mega-Resort?
Alon Las Vegas is the billion dollar resort planned for the land once occupied by The Frontier by Crown Resorts but possible trouble might be brewing that could affect the development of the property. Australian billionaire James Packer and majority owner of Crown has stepped down as the Chairman and from the board, moves that are seen as being a possible pre-cursor to possibly taking the company private. Crown, like all companies who have resorts in Macau, China, have been battered by the huge declines in revenue in that market. All of this financial maneuvering could put a delay in the construction of Alon, which hasn't really started yet. Read more about Alon.
6. Harrah's Debuts New Rooms
Harrah's Las Vegas has taken the wrapper off its brand new rooms and they look pretty good - modern, a nice white and purple color scheme, revamped bathrooms. You can find these in the south tower and they have some limited availability so far. A quick check of the rates showed about a $30-$40 per night premium to get one of these digs instead of one of the older rooms, which are fine but certainly nothing to get excited about. Read more about Harrah's Las Vegas.
5. New Show Set for Westgate
The Westgate hasn't had a lot of luck launching a successful entertainment experience what with their string of Elvis-themed shows failing to materialize and their Suzanne Somers residency ending rather abruptly. But that isn't stopping them from trying. "Twisted Vegas" is the name of the next production going into the big theater, aims to be a parody of all things Vegas and will include singing, dancing, variety acts, magic, and more. It's the brainchild of French TV Star Alex Goude and longtime Vegas entertainer Michael Goudeau (you may remember him as the juggler during the Lance Burton show). Twisted Vegas opens February 9. Read more about The Westgate.
4. Plaza to Redo Pool
The Plaza Hotel & Casino in Downtown Las Vegas has seen a lot of improvements over the last few years, with a completely remodeled casino, all-new rooms, and more. Now they are going to be tackling one of the unique-for-Downtown features, their pool. The 70,000 square foot recreation deck will get a new cabanas, daybeds, dining areas, bars, and greenery in addition to upgrades to the surfacing and the pool itself. The project is expected to start any moment now and be done by this summer. Read more about The Plaza.
3. Virgil's BBQ Moseying on in to The Linq
BBQ fans may have a reason to celebrate this spring when Virgil's Real BBQ opens at The Linq Promenade. Managed by the same company that does Carmine's, the Italian eatery at The Forum Shops and other locations around the world, Virgil's features a menu of 'que influenced by the authentic stuff you get in Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, and the Carolinas from Executive Chef Neal Corman, author of Virgil's Barbecue Road Trip Cookbook. Memphis pork ribs, Carolina pulled pork, and Texas brisket are among the selections. Those who know me know that I'm a BBQ snob so this better be good! The restaurant is a sister to Virgil's already located in New York and The Bahamas. Read more about the Linq Promenade.
2. Westin Lake Las Vegas Sold... Again
It's one of the most beautiful and luxurious resorts in Las Vegas but not enough people know that, apparently, hence the continuing roulette of owners for the Westin Lake Las Vegas. Perched partially atop the lake on the far east side of the city, it started life as the Ritz-Carlton and over the years has become a Loews and now a Westin that has been purchased out of foreclosure for $25 million. Note that just a few years ago it was bought for $155 million. The new owners, a San Diego investment firm, have not said what they plan to do with the hotel long term. Read more about the Westin Lake Las Vegas.
1. Folies Bergere Returning to Vegas
Don't get too excited - the classic showgirls of Folies Bergere are not returning to a Vegas stage but rather to a Vegas museum. The Nevada State Museum, is going to launch a permanent new exhibit about the Folies Bergere show including costumes donated by the Tropicana, where it played for nearly 50 years, and photos from the Las Vegas News Bureau. Its expected June 2016 debut will include panel discussions with people who worked on the show over the years. If you can't wait until June, one of the costumes will be on display at the Mob Museum starting January 21st. Folies opened in 1959 and closed just shy of its 50th birthday in 2009, making it the longest-running production show in Vegas history. Read more about the history of the Tropicana.TOP
Coming Soon to Vegas
Tropicana Las Vegas
The Tropicana was sold in 2015 to Penn National Gaming, making it a sister of the M Resort on the south side of town. The company plans to make some changes to the hotel but hasn't specified exactly what yet. Watch for some remodeling efforts in 2016 but that plan to build a big shopping mall on the corner in front of the hotel? That's probably dead.
Hooter's was sold in 2015 to a group of investors who plan on remodeling and rebranding the hotel although how and to what are not public yet. There will most likely be remodeling afoot in 2016.
The Silverton, a locals hotel south of The Strip, is adding a 360-room tower set to open in early 2016.
The rooms in the Roman Tower, which opened with Caesars Palace in 1966, is getting a major facelift with completely new rooms and a new name, the Julius Tower. Oranges not included.
The parent company of the Monte Carlo, MGM Resorts, is hinting strongly that it will be doing a big remodel of the hotel to go along with The Park development opening next door. It may involve a name change (probably to The Park), but nothing has been made official yet.
Alon is the hotel going on the land where the Frontier once stood is from Australia's Crown Resorts. It is expected to have 1,100 rooms in two towers, a major water feature, a casino, nightclubs, restaurants, and more and it will be staffed by more than 4,500 people. Construction is expected to begin in early 2016 with an opening date by late 2018.
The California, one of Downtown Las Vegas' longest running hotels, will be getting a major makeover in 2016 with new rooms, new decor throughout the public spaces, and new restaurants. It should all be done by late in the year.
The Lucky Dragon is an Asian themed resort is under construction on Sahara Avenue, just west of The Strip. When complete it will have 200 rooms, several restaurants, and a 19,000 square-foot casino.
Las Vegas Club
The Downtown stalwart closed its doors in 2015 after it was purchased by the Stevens brothers, who also own The Golden Gate and The D Las Vegas. They haven't said what they want to do with the hotel yet but it could get a new lease on life before 2016 is over.
The W Las Vegas
One of the room towers at the struggling SLS Las Vegas will get remodeled and rebranded as the city's first W Hotel. It will have its own lobby, registration, and spa. It's set to debut in late 2016.
Resorts World Las Vegas
A new $7 billion, Asian-themed property called Resorts World Las Vegas is being planned for the North Strip on the site of the former Echelon/Stardust project, across the street from Wynn Las Vegas. The property will have 3,500 rooms, the biggest casino in Las Vegas, a 4,000 seat showroom, and more with a heavy Asian theme. It is scheduled to open in 2018.
All Net Resort Las Vegas
A $1.3 billion arena and hotel project is being planned for the former Wet 'n' Wild site on the Las Vegas Strip, just south of SLS Las Vegas (formerly The Sahara. The project is set to include a 22,000 seat retractable roof arena, a 500-room all-suite hotel, and a 300,000 square-foot shopping plaza with stores, restaurants, entertainment venues, and a 16-screen movie theater. It is slated to open in 2017 although it's worth noting that construction has not actually begun yet.
Jenny from the Block will be doing a residency at Planet Hollywood in the same theater that Britney Spears calls her own. J Lo will be doing about 100 shows at the resort over two years starting in January of 2016.
He was saying "Hello" long before Adele. And you'll probably be able to hear him perform that and many of his other hits as he takes up a residency at Planet Hollywood starting in April of 2016. He is expected to do at least 20 shows through the year.
TBD Bally's Show
The long-running Jubilee! will be closing at Bally's in February of 2016 and will be replaced by something but nobody is saying what yet. Watch for a new production a little later in the year.
Baz: For the Record
The show I picked as the best of Las Vegas in 2015, which closed after only a few weeks, is rumored to be coming back to a big theater at Palazzo sometime in early 2016. Fingers crossed!
The front of New York-New York and Monte Carlo is being completely revamped with new Strip facing bars, restaurants, retail, and more plus a park in between the two of them leading back to a new 20,000 seat arena and a 5,000 seat theater. It's all called The Park and is debuting in stages through the rest of 2016.
Topgolf Las Vegas will be a new driving range facility located behind MGM Grand. It'll have four levels with VIP booths, a stage for entertainment, and microchips in the balls so you can see how far you hit it. It should open by spring of 2016.
Those of you with a need for speed will have a new place to pretend you are a race car driver with the proposed Speed Vegas high-performance driving facility. The attraction will cover 85 acres near the M Resort on the far south side of town and will have a road course where people can drive fast cars by makers like Lamborghini, Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Audi, and Mercedes Benz among others. It is expected to open March of 2016.
Treasure Island has inked a deal to bring two family-friendly attractions to the new addition above the CVS. Two walk-through interactive exhibits will go into the second and third floors, one honoring Marvels Avengers and the other all about the Transformers. Details of what will be in them are sketchy but expect hands on displays, movie memorabilia, and some cutting edge technology to wow the crowds. They are both expected to open in the spring of 2016.
Gordon Rasamy Fish
Chef Gordon Ramsay will be serving up quick-bite fish and chips in a shop on the Linq Promenade by summer of 2105.
Dierks Bentley's Whiskey Row
Country singer Dierks Bently will be bringing a branch of his down home Whiskey Row restaurant to The Park, the pedestrian friendly promenade going in between New York-New York and Monte Carlo. It should be open by summer of 2016.
Also at the The Park will be an outlet of Cuba Libre, the restaurant and rum bar with locations in Philadelphia, Orlando, and elsewhere.
El Burro Borracho
A new Mexican restaurant from Chef Guy Fieri will be opening at The Rio in the spring of 2016.
The seafood restaurant from Chef Brian Malarky is set to debut at Aria Las Vegas in early 2016.
Beauty & Essex
From the same company that operates Tao nightclub at The Venetian comes a Vegas version of the popular NYC restaurant featuring Chef Chris Santos' shared plates menu. It is set to open at The Cosmopolitan in spring of 2016.
Everything eggs, but not just breakfast. It's going to open at The Cosmopolitan in the spring of 2016.
In 'n Out
The popular hamburger chain will be opening a new outlet at The Linq Promenade sometime in early 2016.
Virgil's Real BBQ
The same company that operates Carmine's at The Forum Shops is bringing another one of its restaurants to Vegas. Virgil's has outlets in New York and the Bahamas and will get a Vegas sibling at The Linq Hotel in the summer of 2016. It will have 14,000 square-feet, outdoor dining, and a poolside patio.
Budweiser Beer Park
The roof above Hexx Kitchen at Paris Las Vegas is going to get a lot more boozy next year with the debut of the Budweiser Beer Park, a 10,000 square-foot bar and grill. It will feature an outdoor grill, picnic tables, a grassy lawn with games like pool and darts, dozens of TVs showing the requisite sports action, and more than 100 draft, can, and bottle beers plus 36 more on tap. It is expected to be up and running in January of 2016.
The club that will be replacing the now defunct Haze at Aria Las Vegas should be open by summer of 2016.
The big nightclub Tryst at Wynn Las Vegas closed in 2015 and is getting a complete revamp and a new name. Details haven't been released yet but it should be open by fall of 2016.
Hard Rock Nightclub
A new nightclub will debut at the Hard Rock Hotel sometime in 2016 to replace Body English, which closed in 2015. No details are available yet.
Fashion Show Mall
The front of the Fashion Show along The Strip is getting new restaurants and shops. The work is underway now and is expected to be done in early 2016.
Tropicana Pedestrian Bridges
The county is embarking on a $26 million project that will upgrade the pedestrian bridges that cross The Strip at Tropicana Avenue between MGM Grand, New York-New York, Excalibur, and the Tropicana. The project will replace all of the escalators, which break down frequently, the elevators, and wind screens along the bridges plus adding aluminum panels on the surfaces of the bridges to give them a little bit extra sparkle. The overhauls will begin early 2016 and should take about a year to complete so expect some inconveniences while the work is being done.
A group of developers is proposing an 8-screen luxury complex at 3rd St. and Gass Ave., about seven blocks south of the Fremont Street Experience on the edges of the Arts District where the First Friday festival happens. It will have high-end, reservation seating, a restaurant, a lounge, and private event space for their showings of both first-run and arthouse films. The people behind it say they hope to be welcoming movie-goers by late 2106.
Las Vegas Convention Center
A $2.5 billion overhaul and expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center has been approved that will completely revamp the inside and outside of the facility, add new transportation hubs, green spaces, and a street of retail and entertainment outlets. New facilities will replace The Riviera on The Strip, which closes in May 2015.
Crystal Ball Gazing: 7 Predictions for 2016
The story above is all about stuff that someone, somewhere is saying is going to really happen. Whether or not it does actually happen is another conversation - this is Vegas after all, a town littered with grand plans that never came to fruition.
But this story is not about the stuff that is happening, it's about the stuff that might happen. Let me gaze into my crystal ball and see the good, the bad, and the ugly of what you might be see in Vegas for 2016.
Resort Fees Will Continue To Rise & Spread
Predicting that resort fees will get more expensive and spread to other hotels is sort of like predicting the sun will rise tomorrow - it doesn't really require a crystal ball. The high water mark right now is about $36 (including tax, per night) at several of the major MGM Resorts properties and I think that will climb up to $39 this year with others also increasing by a few bucks. Will anyone break the $40 per night mark? I kind of doubt it but I would've said the same thing about $30, which got demolished in 2015. I also think at least a few of the remaining holdouts that aren't charging fees - mostly hotels in Downtown Vegas - will fold and add them to their rates in 2016.
Paying for Parking on The Strip
If you thought resort fees were bad, wait until you have to pay to park at the major resorts on The Strip. There are way too many rumors going around about this for it not to have at least some credibility and I think it'll probably start in a limited fashion in 2016. Look for parking charges during big events at the garages near the upcoming T-Mobile Arena behind New York-New York and Monte Carlo and for it to spread from there.
More Headliners Sign Up for Vegas
The Park development between New York-New York and Monte Carlo is going to include a 5,000-seat theater, exactly the kind of place where a big name artist (or 2 or 3) could set up a residency. The most frequently mentioned names are Adele, Janet Jackson, Katie Perry, Bruno Mars, and Madonna but this is really an open playing field. The casinos are throwing ridiculous boatloads of cash at these big stars - tens of millions of dollars for what amounts to about 20 or 30 nights of work a year. In addition to the Park theater, there's still plenty of room in the big rooms at Caesars and Planet Hollywood and it wouldn't surprise me to see one of the smaller, 1,800 seat showrooms get turned over to a name act like Garth Brooks did with the theater at Encore. Expect a lot of these types of announcements in 2016.
The Transition Continues Away from Traditional Vegas Shows
Piggybacking on the item above, the trend seems to be toward the headliner and away from the more traditional Vegas shows. Witness the closure of Jubilee! and Cirque du Soleil's Zarkana in 2016. I think we'll see more of the existing shows fade away and I think the ones at the top of the list are the Broadway-style shows (Jersey Boys, Million Dollar Quartet, Rock of Ages, etc.) and the ones that have been around forever and can't pull in the audiences they used to (Blue Man Group for instance).
A Major Hotel Will Change Hands
This one isn't really all that much of a prediction - at least one existing Vegas hotel gets bought pretty much every year by someone. In 2015, The Riviera, The Tropicana, Hooter's, and the Las Vegas Club were sold to new owners and I think 2016 will see more of the same only with some more high profile properties. The most likely candidates in my opinion are The Rio, which Caesars Entertainment has reportedly been shopping for awhile now; The Mirage, which is still a candidate despite MGM Resorts' insistence that it isn't for sale; The Downtown Grand, which is a cool place that hasn't found its niche yet; The Stratosphere, just because; and/or one of the indie locals' casinos like The Silverton.
A Major Hotel Will Declare Bankruptcy
There are several pretty obvious candidates here that I won't mention, mainly because I don't want to get sued, but all you have to do is look at the independent properties - the ones that don't have corporate siblings in town - and you could wind up seeing some of those names in bankruptcy court. It happened to Caesars, it could happen to just about anyone.
A Major Nightclub Will Close for Renovations
The club wars will continue into 2016 when the replacements for Haze at Aria, Body English at the Hard Rock, and Tryst at Wynn Las Vegas open, putting pressure on the older clubs to go big or go home. I think the most likely suspects here are Bank at Bellagio, 1OAK at The Mirage, Light at Mandalay Bay, and Chateau at Paris Las Vegas.
Show Review: Celine Dion
This is the third iteration of Celine Dion's residency show at Caesars Palace. The first in 2003, billed as "A New Day," had staging created by Cirque du Soleil's Franco Dragone. With some evocative Cirque style visuals and an energetic dance troupe behind her doing choreography from Mia Michaels, it was probably the best of the bunch in terms of an overall production.
In 2008 she went off to do other projects but came back in 2011 with an updated production featuring a 31-piece orchestra that focused less on the stage spectacle and more on the singing. That was both a good thing and a bad thing, in that it allowed the power of Dion's vocals to take center stage (and let's face it you would be hard pressed to think of anyone who has as pure, clear, and perfect a voice as her), but the end result felt a little sleepy. Packed with her signature ballads and equally languid songs from other artists, the show lacked energy.
After taking a year off to care for her ailing husband in 2015, Dion returned with a (mostly) new production and while it is still packed with mostly slower songs, there is a new energy that is almost palpable.
The dramatic opening is still intact - keep your eyes on that big white curtain but from there most of the show is new (or new-ish). She leads with the touching "I Surrender" and then segues into one of her early hits, "Where Does My Heart Beat," while showing photos and video on screens of her throughout her career. It's a lovely moment and sets up the parade of hits quite well. There's "Because You Loved Me," "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," "The Power of Love," and more.
When she segues into an intimate cabaret setting it gives her a chance to show off how good her vocal abilities really are with nimble and complex phrasings that could set the stage for a future jazz album. It also gives the first real hint of the "new" Celine.
While her vocals are unimpeachable, I have always thought she came across as distant. Despite her emotive style and earnest "You are my heart" type of stage patter, there has always been something that kept her separate from the audience.
Now she dives into the audience, almost literally. She takes a trip up and down the aisles, pausing to shake hands and pose for selfies with fans. It's a fun moment that brackets other more personal moments. She has a montage of photos and videos of her family while singing a beautiful version of "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." Later she puts away the giant orchestra and goes acoustic for some updated versions of "New Day," "That's the Way It Is," and "I'm Alive." It's a nice change of pace that enlivens the show.
Some of the covers she does aren't quite as successful. Her version of "Kiss" is more Tom Jones than Prince and I'm sorry but nobody but Prince should ever do "Purple Rain." Seriously, it should even be removed from karaoke catalogues. Don't do it.
The ending is the theme from "Titanic," of course, and it comes with new staging that literally surrounds her with water and color. It's a stunning, over-the-top visual that makes what she does next even more impressive.
She closes with a simple cover of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" that with the old Celine could have come across as treacly. Here, it is powerful, emotional, and so vocally intricate that it almost leaves you breathless.
Celine has become a Vegas mainstay and if she keeps delivering shows like this she could continue to reign over The Strip for years to come.