Celebrating Retail Innovation in Las Vegas
Recently, two occurrences converged to create a great excuse for a party – not that one ever needs an excuse for a party. This past winter and early spring, our Las Vegas retail, dining and entertainment (RDE) project for Caesars Entertainment, the LINQ, had what can best be described as a soft opening. From late December onward, various LINQ venues opened in phased groups, culminating in late April when the High Roller, the world’s tallest observation wheel, located at the east end of the LINQ, welcomed its first passengers onboard. Soon thereafter, the International Council of Shopping Centers held their annual RECon, short for Real Estate Conference, with events throughout The Strip. RECon is one of Las Vegas’ largest conferences, attended by over 31,000 developers, property owners, managers, brokers, design professionals, politicians, prospective tenants and a myriad of camp followers. An opportunity to showcase our work it the LINQ to an interested audience could not be resisted.
With generous support from our client, Caesars Entertainment, who provided us free rides on the High Roller, along with much appreciated logistical support and the wonderful venue of CHAYO (a refreshingly modern take on Mexican food and tequila bar) and its 2nd floor patio, we were able to welcome old friends and meet plenty of new ones. As they say, a good time was had by all. But, before we get into the party, some background on the LINQ.
At the behest of the new ownership, we first started working with Caesars in 2007 to assess existing conditions and current plans for future development. This assignment lead to additional new master planning commissions for Caesars Development Group. Caesars owns over 300 acres along the central portion of the Las Vegas Strip, from Planet Hollywood to the south, up to Harrah’s to the north on the east side and their flagship Caesars Palace on the west side, making them the largest contiguous land holder on The Strip. Holdings included nine separate casino resorts and over a hundred acres of undeveloped land. Of the numerous challenges, two were paramount.
First, was to increase connectivity between the resorts and create an identifiable “Caesars Precinct.” The key was to increase porosity by giving patrons numerous, pedestrian-friendly ways to move between the properties, and by eliminating friction, those pinch points, bad frontages, and dead-zones that are so disruptive in the creation of ‘desire lines.’ This connectivity, along with increased and improved food and beverage offerings, was essential to keeping patrons on property for the gaming experience. If they go elsewhere for dinner, you have likely lost them all evening, along with their commensurate gaming expenditures.
Second, Caesars needed to develop a framework for rational, phased development over time, which would be attractive to future investors. Much of the undeveloped land lays east of the casinos along Koval, an important yet undervalued transportation artery. Again, connectivity is the key, that is: “how does one seamlessly connect future development that is more than a half mile away back to The Strip?” Equally daunting was the need to phase development such that it always felt complete at the end of each phase. When we began, the era of the $14 billion mega project, a la City Center, was rapidly coming to an end.
The LINQ was the first construction project to come from our planning efforts. Arranged along a pedestrian-only street and a couple of intermediary plazas, this project includes 178,000 square feet of restaurants, bars and clubs, 37,000 square feet more of retail and 70,000 square feet of entertainment venues. The street runs from The Strip at the west end to the aforementioned High Roller at the east end. This street, with the wheel at the end serving as the anchor, extends porosity deeper into Caesars’ holdings to the east and, thus, will support future development. Presently, new casino entrances to Flamingo, on the south side, and the Quad (formerly Imperial Palace) and a relocated O’Shea’s, both on the north end, foster that all-important cross-property porosity. Additionally, the programmatic emphasis on food and beverage compensates for the adjacent casinos’ shortage of restaurant seats. Again, if you keep your patrons on property, you keep their gaming dollars there, too.
Architecturally, the warehouse/light industrial expression of the facades, which makes reference to several decades of past styles, is meant to create a mythology that they may have predated the adjacent casino development, and were recently re-purposed as the LINQ. To strengthen this read, we encouraged rather loose tenant signage regulations and accepted various modernist tenant interventions. In this regard, successful, active urban destinations such as New York’s Meatpacking District, LA’s Santa Monica Boulevard and Dublin’s Grafton Street, served as inspiration for The LINQ. Judging from conversations overheard during our party weekend, the mythology seems to be taking hold.
While this story line may indeed be only a myth, the overall project is anything but one. In fact, it is perhaps the most authentic RDE project in Las Vegas. The proportion of the street width to building heights, location and size of the plazas, easily comprehensible plan, detail and ornament of the facades, landscaping and street furniture all contribute to a genuine urban environment, distinguished from the typical suburban environs of The Strip. The Strip may now have an urban density, but the planning attitudes remain suburban (see previously noted City Center project). The LINQ is a true counterpoint to the typical Las Vegas.
Enough about our work, let’s return to the party.
We were thrilled to celebrate with friends, old and new, from near and far. Caesars’ own Executive Vice President Greg Miller joined us and shared superlatives on the current success of the project and some of its largest retailers. Also from Las Vegas, we enjoyed catching up with Myron Martin and Paul Beard, our clients from The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in 2012.
The Lone Star State was well represented by our clients from North Texas. Johnny Campbell attended the celebration, accompanied by his team from Sundance Square. Only months prior we were joining Johnny to celebrate the opening of the Square and several new mixed-use office buildings in downtown Fort Worth. We caught up with Henry Miller, Robert Bagwell and other team members from the West Village development in Dallas. And Frank Bliss and his partners in Southlake Town Square, with whom we’ve been doing planning and design work since 1996, came to check out some Vegas-style outdoor retail.
Of course, we can’t forget our friends from DC – BF Saul, Transwestern, DC Economic Partnership and others joined the fun. Krista Di Iaconi from JBG Rosenfeld Retail, with whom we recently worked on Downtown Crown in Gaithersburg, helped close out the evening, as did client and friend of the firm Marshall Ruben.
Aside from the conversation, good food (including lobster tacos pulled pork tostada and tres leches), plentiful cocktails (served in DMSAS stadium cups for easy transport to the High Roller) and camaraderie, the highlight of the evening for many of our guests was their spin around the High Roller, which offered views of the Vegas night skyline from ‘550 in the air – a truly spectacular sight.
We want to thank all of our guests for spending the evening with us, particularly since we know there is no shortage of competition for your time during ICSC. We also want to give a particular thanks to Caesars and CHAYO for their outstanding hospitality. If you’re heading to Las Vegas anytime soon, we hope you’ll stop by to check out The LINQ.