I step onto the pod, which feels like it’s barely moving. With me is a couple from Canada, a German family, and a handful of other locals. We chit chat about the weather and where we’re from, then focus on the futuristic glass vessel we’re riding in, part of Las Vegas’ newest attraction.
Fifteen minutes later, we’re soaring 550 feet above the Strip. Below us lies the heart of Las Vegas – glimmering hotel towers, people hawking souvenir T-shirts, and thousands of tourists soaking in the Entertainment Capital of the World.
This is the High Roller, the world’s tallest Ferris-type wheel. The equivalent of a 55-story building, it eclipses the 541-foot Singapore Flyer, 525-foot Star of Nunchang and 443-foot London Eye.
It’s part of the Linq, Caesars Entertainment’s $550 million outdoor entertainment complex of restaurants, bars and retail shops. It’s also the centerpiece of a new Las Vegas trend that’s bringing people out of casinos and onto the streets.
Historically, resort operators worked hard to bring – and keep – people inside casinos. They designed maze-like gaming floors with artificial light, and all-inclusive amenities.
Not anymore. Today, resort operators are moving the fun outdoors with the realisation that outside areas are an opportunity to double up on revenue.
From the top of the High Roller, we can see the cranes and piles of dirt that litter the front of the Monte Carlo and New York-New York. Workers for more than a year have been dismantling the entrances of these casino-hotels to make way for the Park, MGM Resorts International’s answer to the Linq. Caesars and MGM are the Strip’s two biggest players and rivals.
The Park, a $100 million project scheduled to open next year, promises to include exactly what its name implies: a city park with shade trees, benches and grassy areas.
Not willing to miss an opportunity for revenue or to be outdone by Caesars, MGM also plans to build a connected promenade with shops, restaurants, food trucks and attractions. The 10-acre attraction’s cornerstone will be a 20,000-seat arena, the largest on the Strip.
“This is the new generation of the way to design, we think, in Las Vegas, and why I’ve said in the past and believe that the Linq will be so successful for Caesars on that side of the Strip,” MGM Resorts Chairman and CEO Jim Murren said. “People want to get outside, walk around.”
It’s the same reason the Cosmopolitan and other hotels have begun hosting concerts and events in their open-air pool plazas; the rationale behind Caesars Palace’s statue-studded plaza; the driving success of pool parties, which have become ubiquitous in the city; and why Steve Wynn recently added floor-to-ceiling windows to five private gaming parties at his Encore resort.
It’s also a business model that likely will pay off. Studies have shown that modern consumers are turned off by trapped spaces and increasingly seek out communal places and a community vibe.
The Linq, only a few months old, appears to be a success so far. Its Brooklyn Bowl – an 80,000-square-foot concert venue, bowling alley, bar and restaurant – has hosted major artists (Elvis Costello and the Roots, Primus and O.A.R., to name a few) and sold-out crowds. The Linq’s 11 restaurants – the Haute Doggery, Yard House, Sprinkles Cupcakes and others – typically are packed. The promenade is also home to Kitson, the iconic Los Angeles lifestyle boutique; the Polaroid Fotobar, a museum and instant photo shop that pays homage to retro-style pictures; and many smaller specialty shops.
The High Roller observation wheel looks down on it all. Opening day for the attraction brought lines that snaked six hours long.
We make our way down the wheel and marvel at what’s below us. The descent brings unparalleled views.
“Amazing,” one of the Canadians says. “We’ll be back.”
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