Friday, September 16, 2011

A White Elephant in Las Vegas is Blue: Harmon Hotel

(photo: Ali-PG/flickr)
It may appear like a glistening blue jewel on the strip, but the Harmon Hotel in Las Vegas is a dud of an empty shell. Last month press reports indicated that MGM Resorts International is recommending the tower, part of the massive City Center complex, be demolished because of construction defects.

On that notion this "white elephant" on the trip is becoming a favorite for photographs by visitors while the building is still standing. It's unlikely it will demolished anytime soon while litigation is ongoing between MGM and the building's general contractor, Perini Building Co.

If and when the Harmon Hotel is demolished it will be before the hotel ever welcomes even one guest. Initially it was to be a 49-story mixed-use complex with 200 condo on top of 400 hotel rooms. But structural defects were discovered in the building and this high-end luxury building was cut down to 29 stories. Construction ended in December 2009 with only the core and shell completed. In the dispute with MGM, the Perini company is debating that the construction defects can be repaired. Structural engineers reported to MGM that the tower would likely collapse in a strong earthquake.

In the meantime the $279 building is being used as an expensive billboard. The Harmon sits along prime real estate along the strip across from Planet Hollywood and next to The Cosmopolitan. It's been a while since the last building implosion in Las Vegas which was the New Frontier Hotel in November 2007.

(photo: roig61/flickr)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Linq To Las Vegas: Opening June 2013

(all photos: Caesars Entertainment)
There may be dueling observation wheels in Las Vegas if the two projects are actually completed. In May, developers announced the 500-foot Skyvue Las Vegas Super Wheel. Then last month Caesars Entertainment Corp unveiled The Linq project, a $550 million outdoor retail, dining and entertainment district which will include the world's tallest observation wheel at 550 feet called the Las Vegas High Roller. The Linq will be located on the east side of the strip across Caesars Palace.

The High Roller will be taller than the London Eye and will have 28 enclosed, transparent sphere cabins that will hold up to 40 passengers each or 2,240 passengers per hour. Like the London Eye, it will take 30 minutes to make one revolution of the wheel. The attraction is expected to open in 2013.

Caesars also unveiled other details of The Linq project:
- A 200,000 square foot open-air marketplace will hold 30 to 40 retail, dining and entertainment attractions.
- Construction of the project will include the upgrade of three Caesars' properties, the Flamingo, Imperial Palace and O'Sheas.
- The Flamingo will receive a new pedestrian bridge that will connect it to The Linq.
- O'Sheas will be demolished and rebuilt 150 feet east within the Imperial Palace.
- The Imperial Palace will be renamed and transformed with a new facade, porte cochere and hotel reception as well as a remodeled casino.

Included in this post are renderings of The Linq released by Caesars Entertainment.

At this point one can be assured that observation wheels are tourist magnets and they do not have to be constructed in a prime location. The London Eye transformed the South Bank of London bringing thousands of tourist and their money to what was once a much quieter corner of the city. The London Eye was initially a temporary structure to celebrate the millennium. Now it is permanent.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Waikiki Edition Becomes The Modern Honolulu

Since I'm a Marriott Rewards member and stayed at The Waikiki Edition back in June, I'm going to add my thoughts about the controversy and lawsuits and counter suits that erupted earlier this month. First of all the reason I stayed at The Waikiki Edition was because of a USA Today article published in May that reported the owners of the hotel, M Waikiki LLC, was suing Marriott and Ian Schrager, the creative partner of the hotel brand. The 27-page lawsuit indicated that they didn't do enough to make the hotel success. The hotel owner indicated they lost $3.9 million in three months of operation.

This was a bad omen and I wanted to stay at the hotel. But if I was going to book a stay I was going to book one while earning Marriott Rewards points. So I called the hotel and their reservations desk gave me a kama'aina rate (local resident rate) of $199 for my Friday night stay. It's probably a rate the owner's were not keen on knowing that the normal rate for a standard room was $379 per night.

I wrote an entire series of posts about The Waikiki Edition praising the property overall. But now and likely indefinitely Aqua Hotels is the new management company for the hotel renamed as The Modern Honolulu after the owners took control of the the hotel from Marriott over the cover of night.  Marriott sued and a New York judge returned management to Marriott. But that wasn't it. The owners filed for bankruptcy essentially overriding the judgment and keeping Marriott out.

The huge publicity was due to the fact that The Waikiki Edition was the first hotel in the Edition brand, the newest among Marriott's family of hotels, and the method of the takeover. The only other location in the Edition brand is in Istanbul, Turkey. The brand was Marriott's chance to finally tap into the boutique hotel market that catered to media types that have been attracted to competing brands such as the W Hotel chain.

I have to admit it that if the hotel remained The Waikiki Edition I would have definitely returned for another stay. I live in Hawaii but the one-night staycation in June was an excellent one and I was looking forward to repeating the experience again.

Though I am disappointed that The Waikiki Edition is no longer part of the Marriott chain of hotels, I am not surprised. I have been a Marriott Rewards member since 1995 and there are other hotels at which I've stayed and would have stayed at again should they have remained part of one of the company's brands. So the odds that that hotels change name or brands seems high or it's just by coincidence. Most of these changes are made amicably and with very little publicity in the mass media.

Here are some properties that are no longer part of the Marriott chain, the year when I had stayed at the hotel and the present operator* of the hotel:
Renaissance Parc 55 Hotel (1999) - Now is the Park 55 Wyndham
Renaissance London Chancery Court Hotel (2010) - Now operated by Preferred Hotels simply as the Chancery Court London
Renaissance Ilikai Waikiki Hotel (2003) - Now (ironically) operated by Aqua Hotels as the Ilikai Hotel
Courtyard by Marriott at Disney World (2002) - Now is the Holiday Inn in the Walt Disney World Resort

The lawsuit and counter suit will take a while to settle. It's probably unlikely that The Modern Honolulu would revert back to The Waikiki Edition. Probably Marriott's best bet is seeking a pay day in a damage to their brand. The owner's of the hotel would have to come out of bankruptcy sometime or sell the property.

*These are the present operators of the hotels but the history of these properties may have included other companies managing the hotel before them and after it was part of one of the Marriott hotel brands.

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