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LAS VEGAS-One of the largest private developments in history begins opening this week on the Las Vegas Strip. The $9-billion, 67-acre CityCenter development by MGM Mirage and Dubai World includes 17-million square feet of development including 6,800 hotel and condominium units in six towers, a 500,000-square-foot retail and entertainment district, an Elvis Presley-themed Cirque du Soleil production and a monorail to move people between MGM’s three contiguous resorts, Monte Carlo, CityCenter and Bellagio.

Opening this week is the Crystals shopping and entertainment district, the 1,495-room Vdara condo-hotel and spa and the 400-unit Mandarin Oriental hotel. Aria, the project’s anchor, a 61-story, 4,004-room casino-hotel at the back of the site, opens December 16. The development also includes the 674-unit Veer Towers, the development’s only strictly residential building, and the 400-room Harmon Hotel, which is slated to open in late 2010 due in part to construction errors that cost that tower its condo component.

The LEED-Gold development was designed by eight architectural firms including Pelli Clarke Pelli; Kohn Pedersen Fox; Helmut Jahn; RV Architecture LLC, led by Rafael Vinoly; Foster + Partners; Studio Daniel Libeskind; David Rockwell and Rockwell Group; Gensler; and Tihany Design. MGM Mirage launched a new web site for the development a couple of weeks ago.

The recently released Las Vegas Strip Forecast & Investment Guide by the gaming experts at CB Richard Ellis predicts that revenue from Las Vegas Strip resorts will increase between 3.0% and 7.0% in 2010 thanks to CityCenter and new towers at the Hard Rock and Planet Hollywood resorts, but it will come at a cost for existing properties.

“Although most Las Vegas Strip casinos will likely experience revenue and earnings declines in 2010, future implications for Las Vegas are positive,” Jacob Oberman, director gaming research and analysis for CBRE’s Global Gaming Group and co-author of the report, says in a prepared statement. “Investor sentiment will likely improve as ‘headline’ market revenue data measured on a year-over-year basis turns positive. Additionally, market revenue growth sets the stage for net positive job growth for Strip casinos in 2010, which bodes well for the local Las Vegas economy.”

The latest headline market revenue data, Strip gaming revenue from September, released last month by the state Gaming Control Board, shows a year-over-year decline of just 3.58%, the slimmest decline year-to-date, and hotel occupancies have been improving, if not room rates. For the rest of the year, Strip gaming revenue–the amount gamblers lose in casinos–is expected to show YOY increases thanks to a steep drop-off in tourism in the final months of 2008.

“Las Vegas Strip operators have seen profits evaporate quickly as revenue has declined since 2008,” concludes the CBRE report. “Conversely, profit potential on the upside should be equally strong when the Strip does recover, but moderate over time as some operators will have to make good on deferred capital costs and begin to push revenue enhancement–re-hiring in key areas, and re-focusing on development and other corporate strategies. Newer properties and those with less deferred capital expenses will fare better in a recovery, as they will not have to play catch-up on those costs.”

That having been said, the forecast is for there to be some lag effect for the Las Vegas Strip to any national economic recovery. “To combat the drastic revenue declines, Strip operators have engaged in practices such as cost cutting, discounting, increasing ‘complimentaries’ (comps) and tightening casino credit standards to maximize profitability,” concludes the report. “GGG believes there will be some lag effect for the Las Vegas Strip to any national economic recovery, as some of these strategies become counterproductive to increasing profitability during an upturn. As such, operators will continue to face most of the challenges in 2010 they faced in 2008 and 2009.”

Dubai World, a conglomerate controlled by the Dubai government, last week asked creditors for a six-month breather from payments on some $60 billion in debt. The situation is not expected to directly affect CityCenter because DubaiWorld had already fully funded its equity commitment to the project.

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