Palazzo Opening Signals Las Vegas' Upscale Turn

On a winning streak after its best year ever, Las Vegas is upping the ante for hotels, shopping and dining.

An unprecedented $40 billion in tourist development is due by 2012, mostly high-end projects from big names.

Thursday, a new 3,066-room resort on the Strip officially opened — the first since Wynn Las Vegas in April 2005. The Palazzo, sister to the 4,027-room The Venetian, is a suites-only property with rates from about $200 and restaurants from the who's who of chefdom, including Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck. There's a club owned by rapper Jay-Z. Shopping includes the first Barneys New York in Vegas.

A new tourism slogan — "Your Vegas is Showing" — also was unveiled this week in TV and print ads. It focuses on the city's growing cachet as a shopping, dining and party-like-a-rock-star destination, says Erika Pope of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

"It's not replacing 'What Happens Here, Stays Here,' but is complementary …. adding a product message to the brand message — adult freedom experience," Pope says.

Vegas visitation January through November 2007 was up 0.7% over the same period in 2006, Pope says. That's on pace to exceed the record 2006 visitation of 38.9 million, she says. New hotels, clubs and upscale shopping aim to woo more visitors to part with more dollars as gaming revenues flatten.

Among projects in the cards:

• Donald Trump moves in this spring, with the Trump International Hotel & Towers. Rates at the condo-hotel without a casino are due to start at $259.

• Palms Place, a 47-story hotel, condo development and spa is expected to open late next month adjacent to the celeb magnet Palms Casino Resort.

• By next year, Wynn Las Vegas is to open another luxury tower. Encore will have 2,000 suites and its own spa.

• MGM Mirage has a $7.8 billion CityCenter resort/residential/shopping project expected to open next year. The 4,000-room Fontainebleau Las Vegas also is due in 2009.

• Boyd Gaming's Echelon, a complex with five chic hotels, including a Delano and Mondrian, is due in 2010. A Plaza resort involving developers of New York's The Plaza could arrive by 2012.

Is Vegas reaching luxury saturation?

"Our hotel makes more than our casino," says Brad Stone of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns The Palazzo and Venetian. (A Venetian spokesman says occupancy averaged nearly 100% in 2007 and rates averaged about $260)

"At the high end, Las Vegas is considered a (hotel) bargain," Stone says. "There are a whole lot of people who will pay to be in a premium property."

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