11/12/2004 1:00AM

Megaresorts on the rise


For a time in the 1940's, "Can You Top This?" was the number one radio show in the country. In 2004, a version of "can you top this" is being played on the Las Vegas Strip - to the tune of more than $8 billion to create three new megaresorts.

This week the MGM Mirage unveiled a new "urban metropolis," which it is calling "Project CityCenter" for the time being. It will cost more than $4 billion, not including pre-selling residential properties, which will generate $1 billion.

Project CityCenter will be built in phases with the scheduled start in May 2006. There will be 18 months of planning before the first shovel hits the ground.

The site is a 66-acre plot where the Boardwalk Casino sits, between the Bellagio to the north and the Monte Carlo to the south. The first phase construction is scheduled to take 42 months with the opening in 2010.

This makes for three megaresorts in the works on the Las Vegas Strip.

Wynn Las Vegas, a $2.7 billion marvel with 2,700 rooms, is slated to open on April 28, the birthday of Steve Wynn's wife, Elaine.

The Las Vegas Sands, the parent company of The Venetian, has started construction of The Palazzo, a $1.6 billion, 3,000-room edifice scheduled to open in 2007. By the way, The Palazzo is on the same side of the Strip adjacent to Wynn Las Vegas.

Project CityCenter is being called "a city within the city." The first phase will include a 4,000 room hotel-casino, three 400-room boutique hotels operated by upscale hoteliers, 550,000 square feet of retail shops, dining and entertainment venues, and 1,650-unit luxury condominiums.

The second phase would entail the creation of a residential neighborhood, including four towers with 2,500 more residential units.

MGM Mirage took great pains to compare the site to the same size as Rockefeller Center, the SoHo neighborhood of New York City, and Times Square combined. It is hoped the living spaces and non-gaming features will give it a similar feel.

With that in mind, MGM Mirage hired Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut, and Kuhn Architects, who developed plans for Battery Park City in downtown Manhattan and the Inner Harbor East in Baltimore.

The project will be another great boon to the Las Vegas economy, creating 7,000 construction jobs and 12,000 permanent positions.

MGM Mirage had debated whether to build its next megaresort in Atlantic City or Las Vegas. But with local tourism on pace to top a record 37 million visitors this year, the decision was made to expand here.

If that's not enough growth, Wynn is rumored to have more ideas to expand Wynn Las Vegas, even before the place is opened. Wynn has privately discussed building a resort development behind Wynn Las Vegas. It would include a dozen resort hotels, a large lake, and a pedestrian village with stores, shops, fine dining, but no cars.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up radio show.