Monday, May 6, 2013

Las Vegas Gets Brooklynier With Planned Public Park at New York New York

Last month, MGM resorts announced ambitious plans to build a new 20,000 seat arena that would become the largest entertainment venue in the city (in collaboration with monolithic live event superpower AEG) which will open behind New York New York and the Monte Carlo next year. Part of the $100 million plan also includes a public green space inspired by Manhattan's Madison Square Park featuring an outdoor shopping promenade, shade trees, and benches, connecting the two resorts... which is the part that interests and vexes me the most about this announcement.

In one sense, it's nice to see that Las Vegas moguls embracing the green space movement and encouraging their visitors to step outside of their casinos, after years of designing resorts with florescent lighting and no clocks on the walls, meant to keep patrons lose all sense of time and continue gambling away their hard-earned paychecks. But that old philosophy has changed over time, with casinos like The Aria at CityCenter boasting large windows that let natural light spill in from the outside. And now the bigwigs at MGM Resorts are actually inviting guests to step fully out into the sun with their new attraction.

The new park area will create big changes to the facades of both New York New York and Monte Carlo, with green areas set up for people to hang out. But this being Las Vegas, the area will also feature plenty of stores and restaurants where visitors can spend their hard-earned paychecks.

Many of these spaces are pretty conventional... a two story Hershey's Chocolate World  store and attraction will compete with the M and M's World store that's basically right across the street. The Double Barrell Roadhouse is presented by nightlife impresarios SBE, but it will be a decidedly less upscale venue than their swanky Hyde nightclub, with plans to serve American comfort food and glasses of beer.

But a few of the businesses are actually pretty intriguing. 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria, which serves pizzas prepared in a minute in super hot ovens and has become a bit of a sensation in LA, will open its doors in front of Monte Carlo. A new brewpub complete with an outdoor beer garden is planned for the site. And most promisingly, the park will also boast the first Shake Shack location in the country outside of New York city (which is a big deal. Shake Shack is delicious and a huge success. But people who try and act as if Shake Shack is better than or even equal to In N Out should get their heads examined). The park will also provide space for local food trucks to pull up and cook up their goods for visitors.

I'm all for creating more outdoor public spaces in Las Vegas (even though stepping out into daylight in Vegas means roasting in the summer sun), and I think the whole thing is a pretty smart play... while $100 million isn't chicken scratch by any means, it's a smart way to bring in new foot traffic without building a brand new multi-billion dollar resort. And the park is a smart way to counter-program  against The Linq, the new outdoor shopping center featuring a massive ferris wheel being built by the Caesars people just a little bit further North on The Strip.

But the whole thing is also a big bemusing to me. It kind of feels like Las Vegas is trying to do some sort of Brookylny experience on The Strip, with the outdoor park and brewery and Shake Shack elements. Of course, the entire point of New York New York is to create an experience akin to the biggest city in America to The Strip, but transporting the neon commercial hustle and bustle of Times Square into Las Vegas makes sense. Building a communal outdoor experience is less of a natural fit.

While I dig the idea of an outdoor experience coming to The Strip, the new park and plaza ultimately won't end up comparing to the kind of neighborhood-building going on in Downtown, with its local businesses and unique restaurants and bars. Instead, the concept art looks like it's going to take the idea of a public space, commercialize it, and turn it into just another mall. None of this is surprising when you consider the fact that most of the Las Vegas Strip is basically a giant shopping mall (with liberal open-container laws), but the creators of the park have a chance to maybe do something a little different. A two level Hershey's store doesn't inspire confidence that they will do anything new or bold, but it will be interesting to see if the brain-trust behind the project can truly create an experience we haven't see on The Strip yet.

At least there will be a new spot to get a nice craft brew outdoors.