Investing in America's Other Party Town

A massive development is underway to rebuild one of America's premier party towns. No, it's not New Orleans, notes Day to Day slightly cracked correspondent Brian Unger, but Las Vegas. Unger details what's in store for the nation's gambling capital — and whether we really need another hermetically sealed pleasure dome in the desert...

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Now for the Unger Report. Today an historic construction project is under way in the US that will cover an area bigger than New York's Rockefeller Center and Times Square and SoHo combined, and it's not New Orleans. With more, here's Brian Unger.

BRIAN UNGER reporting:

On the same day the president announced one of the largest, most expensive publicly financed reconstruction projects in the United States, the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast, the chairman of MGM Mirage announced the largest, most expensive privately financed development in the United States: the building of a new hotel, casino and mall in Las Vegas, the 66-acre Project City Center, a stunning $5 billion, 60-story, 4,000-room hotel-casino with 500,000 square feet of retail space; another two non-gaming hotels with 400 rooms each; two 500-unit condominium high-rises; another 400 condos inside the two boutique hotels; and then 140 more condos incorporated into the retail space. Call it No Hooker Left Behind.

But here's the real triumph, according to the MGM Mirage press release: The world's top design architectural and construction partners will come together to create a master plan for people who've lost not their homes, but their shirts. This development is, quote, "an unprecedented, sustainable vertical city that will redefine the Las Vegas experience." In other words, it's a building you'll never leave to go outdoors, to see the actual city you're living in or experience things like weather or shame. Inside, tourists can observe the gambler in captivity, where he eats from a buffet, loses his kids' college tuition money and is served divorce papers all in his bedroom slippers. Afterward, he can deal blackjack in the casino to pay off his debt, pull himself up by his bootstraps and lose his money all over again. Hey, it worked for Donald Trump.

Project City Center is scheduled to open in 2009, and let's face it, you can't live closer to a casino, unless you live in Biloxi, where a floating casino is still sitting on top of your living room or on top of a museum or out on Highway 90. You know, it's a gambling addict's worst nightmare really: thunder, lightning and a casino with an outboard motor, chasing you down a street. All 18 million square feet of Project City Center will be anchored to 100 percent desert, where MGM Mirage promises one of the world's largest environmentally sustainable urban communities.

One of the most ironic press releases ever issued declares that Project City Center is designed to promote the responsible use of natural resources. The garden roofs will use reclaimed water. With brainpower like that, who needs drought? The center will generate its own electricity at its very own power plant. No word yet on whether otherwise wasted energy from pulling one-armed bandits and spinning roulette wheels will be reclaimed to power the neon lights. But clearly, it's a new paradigm for a new Vegas. After New Orleans, maybe these MGM folks could give the government a hand in rebuilding Iraq.

And why stop there? If it's gambling in the desert that gets people excited about delivering water, electricity and thriving capitalism to its citizens, maybe we should just cover the Middle East in condos and casinos. Then, what happens in Iraq really stays in Iraq. And that is today's Unger Report. I'm Brian Unger.

CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News, with contributions from slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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