Jeff Simpson catches up with MGM Mirage’s big plans for reshaping Las Vegas

MGM Mirage Chairman Terry Lanni was disappointed that Singapore selected Las Vegas Sands instead of his own company to build a Marina Bay casino resort.

But last month’s setback hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm for two even bigger projects the company is planning in the United States.

In a one-hour interview last week in Lanni’s Bellagio office, the man who runs the state’s biggest resort company said the Singapore decision will accelerate MGM Mirage’s U.S. development efforts.

Closest to home, the gigantic Project CityCenter between Bellagio and Monte Carlo is getting under way in earnest.

The $ 7 billion project’s foundation is being poured this weekend, and the company is moving full steam ahead with its ambitious plans to build what Lanni expects will become the new center of the metropolitan area.

„It’s a paradigm shift – CityCenter will change the face of Las Vegas,“ Lanni said. „I believe it will be the new downtown, the center of town.“

(„No offense to the mayor of Nevada,“ he added, a deadpan dig at Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, the constant downtown booster who has sparred with Lanni over the MGM Mirage executive’s public opposition to the idea of a taxpayer-funded downtown sports arena.)

„This is the biggest construction project – not just the biggest resort project – in U.S. history,“ Lanni said with pride.

He was particularly enthused about the project’s architecture and the evolving nature of CityCenter’s half-million square feet of retail offerings.

„This retail experience will be very, very special,“ Lanni said. „It will be this decade’s answer to the Forum Shops, unlike any other retail offering in Las Vegas.“

Retailers have shown significant interest in CityCenter, and the final lineup will be „very broad, internationally based,“ he said.

The biggest beneficiary of MGM Mirage’s Singapore loss may be Atlantic City, where Lanni said the decision will allow the company to more quickly begin long-awaited plans to build a megaresort on land it owns at Renaissance Pointe.

„It’s no longer a question of ‚if,‘ it’s a question of ‚when,‘ „Lanni said of the company’s plans to build what it calls „CityCenter East.“

„Singapore would have affected our ability to build in Atlantic City as soon as we now can.“

Many of the components of the massive Las Vegas CityCenter are also expected to be part of the Renaissance Pointe project.

Like its Las Vegas counterpart, the Atlantic City project will be mixed-use, with a major casino resort complemented by condominium and condo-hotel units, major retail offerings and at least one boutique hotel.

Unlike Las Vegas, CityCenter East may have an arena component. The company already has big, modern entertainment and sports venues here on the Strip at MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay, but Atlantic City has no comparable arena.

(„The arena would be privately funded,“ Lanni added in another playful swipe at Goodman.)

MGM Mirage’s board of directors recently decided to pursue the Atlantic City opportunity on its own instead of joining with a partner as it did with Boyd Gaming Corp. in its ultrasuccessful Borgata.

Lanni said Borgata results make it clear that there is substantial demand for extended-stay, resort-style properties in Atlantic City as the city becomes less of a day-trip market.