CityCenter and other projects will define an era of booming construction

When the dust settles, what was once lauded by media and industry types as the biggest hotel and condo building boom in Las Vegas history may become the valley’s second- or third-largest development wave.

It will end up being smaller in scope, yet just as important to the evolution of Las Vegas, than the birth of the megaresort in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

This period probably will best be known for the construction of CityCenter, the largest privately funded project in the United States.

MGM Mirage President and Chief Financial Officer Jim Murren said the sheer size of the project may delay other projects by affecting the cost of raw materials and depleting labor.

„We put a lot of pressure on the construction market because we soaked up a lot of the capacity to build buildings,“ Murren said.

Murren said the company began locking in construction costs about a year ago and doesn’t expect CityCenter’s USD 7 billion price – about USD 4.5 billion after condo sales – to rise.

More than a quarter of the roughly 27,000 union tradespeople in Clark County will be working on CityCenter when construction peaks in mid-2008, said Dick Rizzo, chairman of the general contractor, Perini Building Co.

„We can’t start any jobs between now and the middle of 2008, and maybe not even then,“ said Rizzo, whose company is also working on the Trump condo tower and the proposed Cosmopolitan resort, scheduled to open in 2008 and 2009, respectively. „About 80 percent of the work is done by subcontractors, and there are very few who can do that size of a job.“

MGM Mirage’s expensive makeover of the Mirage has yielded a new nightclub, several hip-looking restaurants, a Cirque du Soleil show and upcoming ultralounge based on the music of the Beatles.

Mirage broke financial records in the third quarter, with revenue rising by more than 50 percent and earnings more than doubling after the company spent tens of millions to revamp tired amenities.

The return on the Mirage investment has been more than 20 percent – high by any standard and better than the going rate on the Strip. That’s why visitors can expect „Mirage-like“ transformations at some of the company’s other midmarket properties such as Luxor and the lower-rent Excalibur, bosses said last week.

Aiming to generate bigger profits by outspending the competition, the company will spend USD 500 million on its Vegas properties this year and could spend as much next year.

The Strip’s first megaresort, which broke a record by becoming the first casino to generate more than USD 1 million per day in revenue, is „making more money now than it ever did,“ Murren said.

„Two years ago the Mirage was a pretty good property, but today it’s one of the hottest places in town,“ he said.

Besides a revamped nightclub and a new production show with magician Criss Angel at Luxor, executives won’t say much about what they have in store for the other properties.

It’s months away from Chinese New Year – the biggest baccarat binge of the year – but MGM Mirage executives are seeing an unexpected boom in the game long favored by Asian high rollers.

Bosses at MGM Mirage, whose MGM Grand and Bellagio casinos cater to high rollers, attributed a 22 percent increase in baccarat play in the third quarter to more non-Asians discovering the game and the health of the national economy.

„Baccarat is no longer merely an international and, more specifically, a Far Eastern phenomenon,“ Chief Executive Terry Lanni said during the company’s quarterly conference call this month. American businesspeople are generating wealth and willing to spend money at the gaming tables, he said. More Asians also appear to be gravitating to typically American games, such as blackjack, he added.