When is the north Strip going to be a thing? We’ve been asking this question since 2006, when Boyd Gaming announced it would build Echelon Las Vegas to replace the Stardust.
Several other resort projects have been planned for this portion of the Strip since then, but the results haven’t been nearly as exciting as the speculation. SLS opened, didn’t work out and turned back into the Sahara. The Lucky Dragon opened and closed. Echelon, Fontainebleau and Alon never came to be. The Riviera and the New Frontier were demolished.
But construction is moving right along these days on several projects that will have a tremendous impact, including the Las Vegas Convention Center expansion that will open a year from now. That’s great for business, but when is the north Strip going to be a fun thing? We don’t know yet, but the entertainment picture is starting to come together. Here are the key pieces.
Technically I’d consider the Venetian to be center Strip, but since it’s close, we should probably count the MSG Sphere, under construction behind the resort and its Sands Expo Convention Center. Scheduled to open sometime in 2021, the first-of-its-kind Madison Square Garden Company venue has been making progress in vertical construction, and its 875,000-square-foot spherical building is starting to take shape. It will feature seven seating levels with approximately 17,500 seats and a capacity of just over 20,000 mixing seats and standing room. Much has been made of the technology planned for the Sphere and how that will translate into shows and events like Vegas has never seen, and the other three arena-sized venues on Las Vegas Boulevard are all on the south end.
The Genting Group’s plans for its first Las Vegas project (at the former Echelon site) have seen constant change, and Resorts World—set to open in summer 2021—recently announced it has moved away from the Asian themes that characterized its earliest renderings. It also dropped a bit of a surprise in November: The plans for the $4.3 billion luxury resort now include a 5,000-seat theater and a 75,000-square-foot nightlife and daylife concept. Reports in December indicated Resorts World President Scott Sibella is pursuing both Garth Brooks and Carrie Underwood for country music residencies that would compete with the big-room headliners at Caesars Palace, Park MGM and Planet Hollywood. And if it maintains these plans, Resorts World would replace the Palms’ recently shuttered KAOS as the biggest daylife venue in Las Vegas.
Maybe you’ve forgotten, but Fontainebleau was going to be the Cosmopolitan before the Cosmopolitan. Hakkasan was going to make its Vegas debut there before it landed at MGM Grand with a restaurant and nightclub complex. Now that New York developer Steven Witkoff has purchased the mothballed blue behemoth and started to transform it into the Drew, set to open in late 2022, expect the project to capitalize on the initial design plans and produce all the bells and whistles. In November, Witkoff named former CityCenter and MGM Resorts executive Bobby Baldwin as CEO of the Drew, which has yet to reveal specifics on its collection of restaurants, nightlife, shops and pools.
Sahara Las Vegas
Renovations are far from finished, but the Sahara has already shape-shifted from SLS. The casino is bright and bold, there’s a legit bar and lounge and the new lobby area looks like a Vegas hotel lobby area (which is an improvement). But last year’s quick arrival and departure of Blanc de Blanc in the former Foundry theater/music hall leaves the refreshed property without a significant entertainment draw. In August, owner Alex Meruelo announced the resort pool will be overhauled and expanded with a two-story, 18,500-square-foot nightclub, lounge and theatrical space, which could be complete by the end of the year. But before that, the Sahara gets the smash male revue Magic Mike Live, in exodus from the exiting Hard Rock Hotel, opening in the springtime.
Circus Circus and the former Las Vegas Festival Grounds
Certainly the most interesting new development in north Strip entertainment is Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin’s purchase of Circus Circus from MGM Resorts, a transaction that includes the 37-acre parcel at the corner of the Strip and Sahara (aka the Las Vegas Festival Grounds) that recently hosted the hip-hop Day N Vegas Festival and Amazon’s Intersect music fest. Ruffin has already said he won’t be selling that valuable chunk of Vegas real estate. He has stated his intentions to build a Mandalay Bay Beach-esque pool complex on the site of the current Circus Circus RV park and construct a 2,000-seat theater that he hopes will host The Illusionists, a magic show created by the Cirque du Soleil-owned Works Entertainment that has toured the country and played Broadway. And he’s keeping the Adventuredome. Translation: Circus Circus will likely become the ultimate family fun destination on the Strip. Expect renovations to start soon.