By  on July 18, 2008

The U.S. economy has been battered, but luxury and optimism live in Las Vegas.

The $9 billion CityCenter project, which is a joint venture between MGM Mirage and Dubai World that includes hotels, gaming and condominiums along with retail, has upped the luxe ante, signing a roster that includes Ermenegildo Zegna, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., de Grisogono, H.Stern, Marni, Rolex, Mikkimoto, Roberto Coin and Tourbillon.

In addition, Tom Ford is said to be considering a store in CityCenter's 500,000-square-foot retail, entertainment and dining complex known as The Crystals, which is set to open late next year.

"Vegas is certainly part of our expansion plan, but we are not ready to announce anything at this point," said Shirin von Wulffen, a spokesman for Ford. CityCenter declined comment.

And master chef Wolfgang Puck is developing two dining concepts for the project, along with other international cuisines.

The Crystals is planning to soon announce other groups of retailers in an effort to keep the level of interest high.

"These extraordinary brands will be joined by many others in the months to come," said Bobby Baldwin, president and chief executive officer of CityCenter. "The final details of this project are coming together as we progress toward our opening at the end of next year."

At The Crystals, "we've joined two preeminent architects — Studio Daniel Libeskind and David Rockwell — to create an international gathering place that combines art, design and experience."

CityCenter is on 67 acres between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo resorts on the Las Vegas Strip. Executives involved in the project said their goal is to raise the bar on Las Vegas luxury, provide a setting that breaks the Vegas mold and beat all the other retail centers in the city in terms of sales productivity. The objective is to far exceed the $1,200 a square foot often attributed to the Forum Shops at Caesars, which for years has been considered the nation's most productive shopping center.

The Crystals even wants to beat out what's been the height of luxe in Vegas, the Bellagio, which has the Via Bellagio run of designer shops including Giorgio Armani, Chanel and Christian Dior. The Bellagio is also an MGM property.

"This is going to be pure luxury," said Farid Matraki, vice president and general manager, The Crystals. "If you go into any other shopping center, there is the luxury element, but it's mixed in with other elements."

The Crystals will accommodate between 71 and 77 retail tenants, and more than 75 percent of the space has been leased, he said. The Crystals also has 250,000 square feet of common area, storage and back-of-the-house facilities.

However, The Crystals may not be a slam dunk. Las Vegas, like many cities across the U.S., has been hit by the economic malaise, a combination of soaring gas and food prices, tight credit, declining home values and, as a consequence, consumers who are holding onto their money.

According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the rate of tourism has been flat compared with last year, with the city attracting more than 16.3 million visitors through May. Also, convention attendance for the same period is down slightly, at negative 0.1 percent.

Of course, by the time the complex opens, the economic climate may have changed for the better. "The economy [in Las Vegas] has definitely slowed down," Matraki said. "You can see it, for some retailers, more than others. For the real high-end luxury, it has not slowed down as much as others. Right now, we are focused on making sure we have the proper tenants and are opening on time, by December 2009, and hopefully the economy will have improved dramatically compared to what we have now. Luckily, we are currently building and leasing, instead of conducting business."

There's another issue. Luxury is already ubiquitous in Vegas, and some brands, such as Louis Vuitton and Tiffany, have multiple locations in town. Vuitton has stores inside Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, and freestanding shops at The Wynn and Forum Shops at Caesars, and in the Fashion Show Mall, which houses Saks and Neiman's.

Asked about the proliferation, Matraki replied: "The Crystals will be filled with flagship stores. If a tenant already has a store in Las Vegas, then its store in The Crystals, even if it's the second or third or fourth, will be much larger than any of the existing stores. It's is very difficult in Las Vegas because [almost] everyone is here already. But we have a luxury retail selection like no other....The brands will either have their largest stores, or [in certain cases] it will mark their [entry] in Vegas or the U.S."

Also addressing the issue of multiple locations, Edward Gerard, Tiffany & Co. group vice president, said: "Tiffany & Co. selected CityCenter because it will be a premier shopping destination for Las Vegas residents and visitors, and the Las Vegas market continues to be vibrant and growing.

"Each of our Las Vegas locations will offer a unique shopping experience for our Tiffany customers," he said. "Our store at The Crystals at CityCenter will have a dramatic three-story facade which compliments the center's distinctive architecture, as well as direct access from Las Vegas Boulevard."

The Tiffany store will be 10,000 square feet, and done in polished black marble frame and Art Deco-inspired stainless steel doors.

CityCenter is a design collaboration between MGM Mirage and eight architectural firms, including Pelli Clarke Pelli, Kohn Pederson Fox, Helmut Jahn, RV Architecture LLC led by Rafael Viñoly, Foster + Partners, Studio Daniel Libeskind, Rockwell Group and Gensler.

The multiuse project will become one of the world's largest environmentally sustainable urban communities and is seeking LEEDS certification.

Along with The Crystals, CityCenter will feature Aria, a 61-story, 4,000-room gaming resort; three luxury nongaming hotels, including Las Vegas' first Mandarin Oriental, The Harmon Hotel, Spa & Residences and Vdara Condo Hotel, and Veer Towers, the development's only strictly residential buildings of about 2,600 condominium residences.

The 18-million-square-foot CityCenter also will feature a $40 million public fine arts program with works by artists including Maya Lin, Jenny Holzer, Nancy Rubins, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.

But The Crystals forms the core of CityCenter, and will be hard to miss, with its planned 85-foot-high glass crystalline canopy created by Libeskind.

"Vegas is essentially low buildings with a big attraction in front, like a volcano, a pirate show. CityCenter is a much more integrated concept," said architect David Rockwell. "There's a cross-pollination that you just don't see in Vegas." He called the concept "an abstracted 21st century park. "It's very much a social gathering place. People are going to shop, dine enjoy the entertainment. They are primarily going for a social experience with all those intersecting."

There will be a 5,000-square-foot "flower carpet" with flowers changed weekly, inspired by a flower carpet in Brussels, Rockwell noted. There also will be a three-level tree house sculpture and a bamboo staircase inspired by the Spanish Steps in Rome. In the middle of the staircase, there will be "a little park area to grab a drink or a soda. The public space is the primary element that you will read. Its gentle, curvilinear landscape makes a great contrast," to the rest of the Strip.

"The biggest luxury people will find is space," Rockwell said. "There will be great luxury retail, but the biggest luxury will be the amazing sense of space that counteracts the experience of walking along the Strip and that feeling that things are far away, that it's all one-way circulation and that you're getting corralled.

Among the store openings, Louis Vuitton will open its 16th "global store" in North America, selling all product categories including men's and women's ready-to-wear, leather goods, shoes, watches, jewelry, sunglasses, textiles, ties and accessories. The two-level store will be located in the center of the development and will be one of the largest Louis Vuitton locations in North America.

De Grisogono, a premier jeweler and watchmaker with a Hollywood following, will launch its first West Coast and second U.S. boutique at The Crystals. The brand has just 15 stores worldwide.

Ermenegildo Zegna, the fine men's clothing firm, will showcase its extensive collection of suiting, sportswear, small leather goods and accessories in an approximately 10,000 square feet.

For H.Stern, it's the renowned jewelers' first West Coast store and only its third in the U.S., and for Marni, Las Vegas marks its fifth U.S. location, which is taking 2,500 square feet.

Roberto Coin will open its second U.S. boutique at The Crystals, occupying 1,200 square feet.

Tourbillon will sell Swatch Group brands including Breguet, Blancpain, Glashütte Original, Jaquet Droz, Léon Hatot and Omega under one roof. In homage to the parent company's namesake, a selection of exclusive watches and jewelry from the Swatch brand also will be featured.

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