The Great Recession quashed the 20-year building spree on the Las Vegas Strip: The last big resort to open was the underperforming MGM CityCenter in late 2009, and several half-finished hotel-casinos still litter the Strip. Now, Caesars Entertainment hopes to turn Sin City's luck around with a $550 million open-air shopping and entertainment area called the Linq, anchored by the world's biggest Ferris wheel, the 550-foot-tall High Roller. Can an outdoor shopping mall, even one designed by successful Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso, really bring new life — and customers — to Vegas?
The Strip is already on the upswing — and Linq will help: Caesars has the permits in place, and expects to break ground next month, says Barbara Delollis at USA Today. And with 16 consecutive months of visitor growth and an uptick in gaming revenue, "Las Vegas shows signs that it's coming back" already. The shift from more hotel rooms and slot machines to "a lively pedestrian district that attracts younger generations," though, means the new Vegas might be less sin and more city.
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But Linq will have competition: Perhaps a middle-brow mall and giant Ferris wheel really will "strengthen the city's hand in the high-stakes game of attracting tourists," says Rob Lovitt at MSNBC. But when Linq and its High Roller open in 2013, they'll face off against Skyvue Las Vegas, a rival 476-foot-tall wheel and 11-acre retail complex at the other end of the strip. Doubling down on two giant observation wheels "could be a bust," both for the competing projects and Sin City.
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Vegas has to reinvent itself to thrive: Even before the recession, Caesars saw the "inconvenient truth for Las Vegas and its humming casino-centric economy": Younger people aren't into slots, says Liz Benston at Vegas Inc. And the hard-gambling Baby Boomers who have fueled the Strip's growth won't be around forever. What Caesars is gambling on is that 30-somethings will seek out in Vegas what they like in other cities: A low-key place to eat, drink, and meet up with friends. It may be Sin City's best bet.
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