Las Vegas has been referred to as one of the modern wonders of the world, and for good reason. Long gone are the days when Vegas was a cheesy sleazy place full of casinos and endless Elvis memorabilia. Today, Vegas is an ultra-modern party town that’s rapidly going upmarket, with more attractions per square mile than anywhere else on earth, and hotels and casinos that simply take your breath away.
Even more remarkable is the sheer scale of redevelopment that’s going on within the 3.5 miles of the Las Vegas strip. More than $30 billion is being pumped in to develop new mega hotels that make the existing ones look like sheds. If you’ve never been to Vegas before, go now to catch a glimpse of the 20th Century Vegas before the 21st Century comes rushing in.
The birth of Las Vegas
Las Vegas as we know it today can trace its roots back to 1941, when the El Rancho, the Strip’s first hotel-casino, opened its doors. The success of the El Rancho spurred the first building-boom on the Strip in the late 1940s and early 1950s, with the construction of legendary casinos such as the Flamingo, Desert Inn, The Sands, The Tropicana and The Stardust, all hastily constructed to capitalize on the massive profits that gambling was bringing into the city. Needless to say these early casinos were owned by the mob, and Vegas well and truly earned its reputation as Sin City.
The 1960s: Howard Hughes and the end of the Mob
The mob’s presence in Las Vegas declined with the arrival of Howard Hughes in 1966, who, over the following four years, bought out many of the mobsters. First the Desert Inn, then the Sands and the Frontier, plus several smaller casinos, all fell into the ownership of Hughes. His presence in the city encouraged other legitimate businessmen to follow his lead and also invest in the city. The most prominent was billionaire Kirk Kirkorian, who built the International (now the Las Vegas Hilton) in 1968, followed by the MGM Grand in 1973. Hughes competed furiously with Kirkorian and built the Landmark hotel, a 346 foot monstrosity that took ten years to build, never made any money, but was taller than Kirkorian’s International Hotel, which was all Hughes was after.
The 1990s: The rise of the Mega-Resorts
After the opening of the MGM Grand, though, building on the strip stalled. It wasn’t until 1986 that work began on the next major new hotel. The Mirage, a $630 million hotel and casino built by Steve Wynn, was a huge gamble as it had to make $1 million a day just to service the debt incurred in building it. However, its opening in 1989 brought huge success, and helped usher in the next great wave of construction to the city: the rise of the Mega-Resorts.
In 1990, Circus Circus Enterprises built the 3,991 room camelot-themed Excalibur hotel at the south of the Strip for $290 million. At the time, the Excalibur was the largest hotel in the world, but this record wouldn’t last for long. Just three years later, Kirk Kirkorian, who had sold his existing MGM Grand (which was subsequently renamed Bally’s), built another MGM Grand opposite Excalibur with over 5,000 rooms.
1993, the year of the new MGM Grand’s opening, was a watershed year for Las Vegas. The Dunes hotel was imploded, Steve Wynn’s new 2,885 room Treasure Island hotel was opened, and Circus Circus Enterprises (now called Mandalay Resort Group) opened the new 4,407 room Luxor hotel, designed as a gigantic black hollow pyramid. The era of the themed mega-resort had well and truly arrived in Las Vegas, as these hotels were followed by the Stratosphere, New York New York, Paris and The Venetian, which all opened their doors in the 1990s.
It wasn’t just themed resorts that were opening, though. Las Vegas was going upmarket, too, with more exclusive and non-themed hotels, such as Mandalay Bay and the Bellagio, also opening during this period. At $1.7 billion, Wynn’s The Bellagio was the most expensive hotel yet built in Las Vegas, and set the standard for the next construction boom that would begin in the early 2000s.
All this construction had come at a cost to old Las Vegas, though. The Sands was demolished to make way for The Venetian, the Dunes made way for The Bellagio, while the Landmark, Hughes’s ill-fated attempt to beat Kirkorian, was demolished to become a car park for the Las Vegas Convention Center. Las Vegas never did do sentimental!
Coming Soon: $30 billion of new Vegas hotels
The five years from 2000 to 2005 saw another brief hiatus in construction. This came to an end in 2005, though, with the opening of the new Wynn Las Vegas, a $2.7 billion 2,716 room luxury hotel. The Wynn was built on the site of the old Desert Inn, which Wynn had demolished in 2001, just four years after a $200 million renovation and expansion of the old hotel.
The Wynn follows in the footsteps of The Bellagio in being a luxurious high quality hotel. Its success has helped sparked the biggest boom in construction that Las Vegas has ever seen, with the last of the old hotels falling like dominoes, and new super-luxurious multi-billion dollar hotels taking their place. Las Vegas is being transformed like no other city on Earth.
In the two years since the Wynn first opened, five new mega-hotels have begun construction, each of which makes the Wynn look cheap in comparison. Between 2007 and 2010, the following mega-resorts will open:
- The Encore at Wynn, a $1.74 billion 2,054 room sister-hotel to the Wynn that will rise to 653 feet
- The Palazzo, a $1.8 billion 3,025 room hotel that will be a sister hotel to The Venetian. With over 7,000 rooms between them, the new Venetian/Palazzo complex will become the biggest hotel in the world
- Echelon Place, a $4 billion complex of hotels, casinos and condominiums, that’s currently being built on the ashes of the old Stardust (which was imploded earlier in 2007)
- Fontainebleau Las Vegas, a $3 billion hotel being built opposite Circus Circus that will soar 63 stories high
- Project City Center, a $7.7 billion complex of hotels comprising over 7,000 hotel rooms, situated between New York New York and the Monte Carlo
These hotels are currently under construction, and will open between early 2008 and 2010. They’re by no means the end of the story, though. Hotels that are about to begin construction include The Plaza, a $5 billion hotel that will be built on the site of the New Frontier, which will be imploded later in 2007; and the Crown Las Vegas, a new hotel that will be built next to the Fontainebleau, and which will soar an incredible 1,888 feet. In addition, MGM Mirage, the company behind Project CityCenter, plan to build another mega-resort of similar scale north of Circus Circus, while Steve Wynn has plans to redevelop the golf course sitting behind The Wynn, and turn it into – yes – another multi-billion dollar hotel!
In total, more than $30 billion dollars is being pumped into Las Vegas, making this the biggest construction boom in the city’s already stellar history. If you’ve never been to Las Vegas before, go now to catch a glimpse of 20th Century Vegas before the 21st Century rushes in and transforms it forever.