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The Biggest Bet in Vegas

Impresario Steve Wynn has broken ground on a $1.95 billion hotel, Le Reve
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Steve Wynn, Jan/Feb 03

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Even Lanni, the man who replaced Wynn at the Mirage and Bellagio, is voicing support. "It'll be tough for Steve to outdo the Bellagio, but when it comes to building hotel-casinos, he is a creative genius," says Lanni, insisting that what's good for Wynn is good for Vegas. "He'll build a showstopper that will bring new people to Las Vegas. They'll visit our properties as well as his."

Pressed to tip his hand, Wynn explains that Le Reve's interior will be broken up into seven distinct and unique environments -- or, as he calls them, "theaters" -- that will play off the mountain.

He describes one of those stages: a Japanese restaurant built around a garden and lagoon, alongside a small, cloistered Shinto temple, complete with wind chimes and lanterns. "Now," he says, his voice building in intensity, "what did we do with that? The sidewalk is cool enough. It's beautiful." His voice momentarily drops to a whisper: "But the show's not out there."

Reverting to a normal voice, he continues, "To see anything like what's in that Japanese restaurant, you'll need to go 5,800 miles to Kyoto. This is about your experience. You feel like sushi? Goddamn it, I'm taking you to a place you haven't been before, not in this country. And that is just one moment. The hotel is a series of those layers, one on top of the other, catering to the full range of your emotions. This environment is about giving you a bigger kick when you are inside than out. We are not giving a payoff to the guy on the sidewalk. We hook him with an attraction outside, but the best is yet to come. That's a different generation from Mirage and Bellagio." He hesitates dramatically, then considers it all, as if he's thinking about this for the first time. "Who won't want to look behind the wall and see Le Reve? To paraphrase George S. Kaufman, it's the way God would do it if he had money."

That said, Wynn is quick to point out that he is not abandoning Vegas tradition altogether. He acknowledges that Le Reve couldn't exist if he had not already done the Bellagio -- and taken a type of hotel concept to the end of its limits. Certain elements of the Bellagio echo in Le Reve. The gaming floor will be heavily draped and laid with fabric, with funky light fixtures hanging from the ceilings. The rooms have a sense of modern sleekness, but the overall design effect is soft and curvy and almost feminine (at least as feminine as a richly earth-toned color scheme can be). He recently recruited his first celebrity chef -- Daniel Boulud, who will transport a copy of his Manhattan landmark to Las Vegas -- and has commissioned Cirque du Soleil creator Franco Dragone to produce a signature show, centering around a Himalayan tribe with flying children, that is designed to outdo Dragone's Mystére and "O" (which play at Treasure Island and Bellagio, respectively). Not to be outdone, Lanni recently commissioned Dragone to create two new shows for his hotels: one will be in the MGM Grand, the other in New York, New York. "Franco is a smart guy, and he'll create a successful show for Steve," Lanni coolly says. "But the people who see Steve's show will also want to see Mystére and 'O' and our two new shows."

Shopping -- which is a big lure in Vegas -- will center at Le Reve around the presence of a Ferrari/Maserati car dealership. Wynn's not yet sure what other blue-chip retailers will be at the resort, but the Ferrari/Maserati showroom is a good way to set the pace. It'll make money as a retail operation (like most dealerships of the elite automobiles, Le Reve's will sell about 30 new cars per year and traffic in secondhand vehicles as well), but Wynn is taking the showroom to the next level, employing it as an attraction that will drive business through Le Reve. "Ferraris are great to look at, but here they'll be more than that," Wynn explains, pointing out that the operation's theme will revolve around the glamour of Formula 1 racing.

"We'll sell clothing, have a Formula 1 restaurant, show racing videos, hang a damned car from the ceiling, let people sit in the cars," Wynn says. "It'll be an attraction just like sharks behind the front desk [at the Mirage] are an attraction. And the Ferrari people are completely behind it. This was an easy sell to Gianni Agnelli. In two seconds flat, he told me that he wants to do it."

Nevertheless, even as Wynn aims to redefine the Vegas resort -- and the hotel as we know it -- he still marvels over what his city has accomplished and what it has become. While he acknowledges that "some things done here are hideous and horrible beyond endurance, almost punishingly ugly," he quickly counters that Vegas at its best is equally astonishing. "The Mansion at MGM represents 29 of the most exquisitely presented accommodations in the country," he gushes (albeit, a few breaths later, Wynn describes it as "a jewel on the corner of a vast, middle-range hotel; it belonged at the Bellagio"). "Parts of the Bellagio are noteworthy: the millwork, the stone, the ceramic; they're all the best of everything and nothing there is faux" -- another swipe at some of the very faux newer hotels -- "and the Mandalay Bay has tasteful design work in some of its restaurants."

After putting down the Mandalay for having a South Pacific theme that could have been lifted from the Mirage, Wynn genuinely says, "The Hermitage and Guggenheim at the Venetian are great. The 40 canvases on display there, stretching from Velázquez and El Greco to Van Gogh and Rothko represent a history of the arts, going from the fifteenth century to the twentieth century. Any art professor could use it for a complete survey course on painting. Not bad for Las Vegas."

Wynn, the first hotelier to exhibit art, will have a gallery of his own at Le Reve -- it features a triptych of portraits that Andy Warhol had done of him -- but the hotel will contain some touches that he has copped from competitors. "Nobody does anything from scratch," acknowledges Wynn. "We all stand on each other's shoulders. Sheldon Adelson built a bigger room at Venetian and people loved it. Sheldon was the first guy to go over 600 feet with a standard room. Bellagio is 494 square feet and that's a five-star room. What's with 620 feet? Six hundred fifty? Isn't that gilding the lily? Isn't that unnecessary? I thought it was when Adelson did it. I was wrong."

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