For all that the Strip offers, it has not been able to boast a single, urban gathering spot, an outdoor space where a mass of people is, in itself, as exciting an experience as gambling, dining or shopping.
For that sense of open-air carnival, people have turned to Fremont Street — where entertainment is generally defined by a band stage, an overhead zip line and an animated, LED-encrusted canopy.
Caesars Entertainment hopes to change the landscape with Linq, a half-billion-dollar restaurant and entertainment district anchored by a 550-foot-tall observation wheel that will rise mid-Strip, across the street from the company’s flagship, Caesars Palace.
Company officials want it made clear that this is no pie-in-the-sky vision; it already has the money in hand to build the project, the most ambitious in Las Vegas since the pummeling of the recession, and says it will be open within two years.
The company hopes Linq, which will swallow a space around Imperial Palace and O’Sheas, will create a buzz among younger, hipper visitors who party on a budget, providing them a place to hang out, see and be seen, free of the confines of a casino.
On Wednesday, Caesars Entertainment announced that O’Sheas, the low-budget leprechaun-themed casino famous for its beer pong, will forfeit its Strip-front real estate and become incorporated within the Imperial Palace. Imperial Palace in turn will receive a makeover of its casino floor, a new facade and new name, which wasn’t revealed.
Regional President Rick Mazer said Caesars will re-create an “O’Sheas-like” venue about 150 feet east of Las Vegas Boulevard, further into the Linq shopping district, that will act as a second entrance to Imperial Palace. He did not say whether the O’Sheas name would remain.
Among the details revealed Wednesday:
• The outdoor promenade, dubbed Linq as an homage to the sense of community developers hope it will create, will house 30 to 40 businesses — more bars and restaurants than shops and entertainment attractions. Paul Kurzawa, chief operating officer of Caruso Affiliated, the Los Angeles firm overseeing the promenade, said marketing teams are working to recruit as tenants national and international brands with no footholds in Las Vegas. He said a few are close to signing leases, but would not identify them.
• Caesars has raised the money it needs to build Linq, a good indicator that the project will actually move forward despite Las Vegas’ ongoing economic turmoil. “We have every penny ... sitting in the bank,” said Greg Miller, senior vice president of development.
• The don’t-call-it-a-Ferris-wheel observation wheel will be the first in the world with spherical cabins. Each of the 28 units will hold up to 40 people, and be available to rent for private parties, complete with food service and a bar cart. A single ride will cost $20.
The cabins will rotate both around the main wheel and individually to keep passengers level at all times. All will be equipped with 360-degree high-definition video screens.
Officially named the “High Roller,” the wheel will move slowly, 1 foot per second, and offer passengers a half-hour ride. When completed, it will be the tallest in the world, towering 100 feet higher than the London Eye.
Caesars designed Linq with a very specific customer in mind: an urban thirty-something who is looking for a place to meet friends, hang out and have fun. With the Strip saturated with hotel rooms and slot machines, gaming companies are increasingly looking at entertainment ventures as the most promising way to keep properties fresh and attract visitors.
Jan Jones, a Caesars senior vice president, said people’s biggest complaint about the Strip is its lack of natural gathering places. Past efforts at creating an urban square (think CityCenter) have disappointed.
“We’re giving customers what they told us they expect in the next version of Las Vegas,” Jones said. “It’s all about community.”
Construction of Linq will start in September, with an expected completion date of June 2013.