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CityCenter employees receive uniforms, gear up for opening
By Amanda Finnegan Amanda Finnegan
Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
With CityCenter’s first opening date just a month away, thousands are gearing up for new jobs at the property.
CityCenter brought hundreds a step closer to work on Wednesday as it handed out uniforms to new employees.
For those who have been out of a work, the uniform is symbolic of the beginning of new opportunities.
“This is like early Christmas. This is like the best gift I could unwrap for myself,” Gabriel Bustamantez said.
Bustamantez will begin his training for a room service position at ARIA in the coming weeks. The former graphic design professional said he was laid off in February and has been out of work since.
Like many other unemployed Nevadans, Bustamantez said his savings dwindled, he struggled with bills and his job search led him from dead end to dead end.
“Looking for a job was my job for awhile,” Bustamantez said. “I’d look online. I’d go three times a week to anywhere that was hiring — fast food, gas stations, other casinos.”
After selling all his graphic design equipment and computer to pay his rent, Bustamantez said, he had to swallow his pride and ask his parents for help.
“It’s been hard on myself and my family. I moved back in with my folks and that was hard for them, too, because I became a burden on my family again. That’s really where the struggle came in and my self worth changed. Here I am at 29 having to be their child again,” Bustamantez said.
But after applying with CityCenter, the hiring process moved along fairly quickly. Two weeks after applying, Bustamantez got a call for an interview and, a week later, got a job offer.
CityCenter began fitting new employees for uniforms on Oct. 1 and will process more than 200,000 garments before the hotel and casino opens in December. The 130 different uniforms represent not only different positions at CityCenter, but the property’s commitment to environmental sustainability.
ARIA Vice President of Hotel Services Barbara Davis said the design process for the uniforms started more than two years ago when MGM Mirage began to lay out the casino and restaurant concepts.
Noted for her work designing men’s fashions, eyewear and housewares for Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, fashion designer Jhane Barnes was recruited to design uniforms for ARIA.
Davis said Barnes purchases recyclable polyester from a company in Japan, which can later be sent back and reused after the uniform has seen its lifespan. Along with that, ARIA convention staff uniforms have been developed from recycled materials.
Also waiting for her uniform today was Nicole D’Antuono, a future food server and room service attendant at ARIA.
D’Antuono said she put in for the position as soon as the property began accepting applications. At the time, she was working at the Rio and didn’t think layoffs were coming, but she decided to apply just in case.
The day after D’Antuono was offered the job at CityCenter, she was laid off from the Rio. Wednesday marked four weeks being out of work.
“I absolutely felt layoffs were coming right before it happened. It got really scary over there” at the Rio, D’Antuono said. “But I got really lucky compared to a lot of people.”
Davis said the best part of CityCenter’s recruitment has been days like today when future employees get a glimpse of the environment they’ll be working in.
“This is the most rewarding part for our company — to know that we are able to offer these jobs, that we made it over our hurdles and people are going to able to see the product that we are bringing them,” Davis said.
CityCenter received close to 160,000 applications for 12,000 openings — 60,000 more than the expected 100,000 applications. Of those who applied, 50,000 were interviewed.
Employees from other MGM Mirage properties will make up close to a third of CityCenter’s positions. The openings that transfers create at other MGM Mirage properties will be filled throughout the year.
Most employees at CityCenter will begin work in late November, ramping up through early December.
Vdara Hotel will kick off CityCenter’s opening on Dec. 1, followed by the Crystals retail and entertainment district on Dec. 3, Mandarin Oriental on Dec. 4 and ARIA Dec. 16. The Harmon will open in late 2010.
Las Vegas Gambles on $8.5 Billion CityCenter
MGM-Mirage's CityCenter is possibly the biggest bet in Las Vegas' history. With four towering hotels, a casino, a high-end shopping complex and 42 restaurants and bars, it's an $8.5 billion, 18-million-square-foot behemoth and the crown jewel of the Strip.
Aria, the flagship hotel and casino in CityCenter, officially opens to the public Thursday. "Nightline" was given special access behind the scenes as the centerpiece hotel was put through the paces for its grand opening.
Roll of the Dice
Readying a 61-story resort is a formidable task: vacuuming escalators, making 4,210 beds, stuffing 21,000 pillow cases, watering 182,000 plants, counting $117 million in poker chips. Fifty thousand bottles of wine and 500 live lobsters have been stocked for the opening.
CityCenter hired 12,000 people to staff the complex. The project amounted to a privately-funded stimulus package for Nevada. But in a sign of just how bad things are in the recession-battered city -- 177,000 job applications flooded in for the coveted spots.
Miguel Robledo was one of the lucky ones. He was unemployed for a year and half and burning through his 401(k) before being hired as an assistant restaurant manager at Aria.
As the clock counted down to opening day, Robledo had a whole new set of worries.
"The food is lacking a little in preparation. We didn't have the chicken wings. We are trying to scramble," he said. "If the warehouse doesn't have any then we check other restaurants."
In the halls underneath the complex, 200,000 uniforms were handed out from an automated uniform station. They have an entire alteration department busy fitting uniforms. In-house laundry was on overdrive.
Down the hall, where huge storage rooms are filled with everything from oysters to miniature bottles of booze for the in-room bars, a quality-control chef checked some of the 7,000 pounds of fresh blue tuna, to be served hours later in an appetizer dish at the restaurant's first meal.
"Let's remember everything we trained for," a restaurant manager said in a speech before service began. "Don't cut corners. Don't forget everything we told each other we were going to do. Things are going to go wrong, it's guaranteed. The fire alarm is probably going to go off. Some mistakes will happen in the kitchen. Let's do everything we can to try to catch those mistakes before they become major."
Meanwhile, the room service team was busy lining up its delivery carts with the precision of NASCAR drivers -- and taste testing their own menu.
Staff Puts Through Paces
Judith Zamora came to CityCenter straight from the unemployment line. Now, she's the executive housekeeper.
"When I got the position, I was ecstatic," she told ABC News. "I had to pull [my daughter] out of college because I couldn't afford it. She is now back in...I didn't want to have to do that, but everyone has to make sacrifices and that was our big sacrifice."
Zamora's maid service briefing had the feel of a military operation.
"Everybody's really tired. We're working like crazy. You guys been working like crazy, but we need to keep it going. We're almost to the end. Wednesday we open. Isn't that exciting?" she said to applause. "So let's keep it going today, just keep on your staff keep working with them."
Cost Overruns Nearly Buried Complex
Preparing for opening day has been an uphill battle from the start. Cost overruns nearly buried the MGM-Mirage. And their main investor, Dubai World, suffered its own financial meltdown.
Twelve months ago, MGM-Mirage's Senior Vice President Alan Feldman was worried that CityCenter would make it.
"Our bottom line will have to be altered because clearly the prices we're going to get for things aren't what they were when we started projecting things out," Feldman told ABC News in an earlier interview.
But CityCenter pushed through. It's now the most expensive privately-funded commercial project in the country. And with financing secure, Feldman is finally breathing easier.
"We have worked really hard to get to this day," he said. "This wasn't easy, and there were definitely some moments along the way where we doubted whether or not we would make it."
The casino floor is where MGM and Dubai World hope to make their money back. Gaming brings in hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
Does Las Vegas Need Another Hotel?
Still, the question about CityCenter lingers: does Las Vegas need another hotel?
Executives say yes, pointing to CityCenter's differences from the many themed hotels on the strip.
"I think what the town didn't need was just another themed hotel," said Feldman. "What the town needed was to find a slightly new direction to attract people who weren't coming here."
In the midst of a steep downturn, hotels have offered bargains and value to entice visitors back to Sin City. MGM projects Las Vegas will see 38 million visitors in 2010 -- and the bet is that they'll be attracted to what the stunning CityCenter can offer.
"Vegas isn't out of the woods yet, and just having CityCenter doesn't make it so," Feldman said. "But there are some things that are very positive. Now that we are beginning to see signs that travel, business is beginning to pick up, that is the kind of momentum that we need not only for City Center but also for this community."
Three of the six towers in the CityCenter development have already opened.
12,000 employees and the cash-strapped MGM-Mirage are "all in"-- betting that their gleaming new hotel towers will show the world that Sin City's losing streak is over.
Judge puts hold on razing flawed Harmon tower
An exterior view of the Harmon Hotel tower, center, in CityCenter as seen from the Cosmopolitan on Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, in Las Vegas.
By Hannah Dreier, Associated Press
Published Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 | 3:11 p.m.
Updated Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 | 5 p.m.
The Harmon - Oct. 2011
The Harmon at CityCenter in Las Vegas on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011. Launch slideshow »
The hulking, empty Harmon Hotel tower at CityCenter will stay up for now.
Clark County District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez issued an order on Friday requiring the casino owners to postpone demolishing the flawed tower.
CityCenter owners have been waiting to demolish the half-built hotel tower on a prime piece of Strip real estate since 2008, when inspectors found structural flaws that doomed the building.
But the general contractor that built the Harmon has argued that the building needs to stay up to serve as evidence in an eventual lawsuit.
On Friday, Gonzalez ruled that building should stay up so that more tests can be done.
CityCenter is operated and half-owned by MGM Resorts International.
Insurer FM Global, which wrote the insurance policy covering the Harmon's construction and is investigating CityCenter's $393.8 million claim for a total loss, first asked Gonzalez issue the order last fall.
The Harmon was supposed to be a 48-story component of the glittery $8.5 billion CityCenter project that opened in December 2009. But inspectors found flaws in the steel reinforcements used in the concrete structure, and tower construction was frozen at 26 stories.
CityCenter attorneys have argued that the unsound building is a safety hazard, and should be taken down as soon as possible. They say the tower could collapse in a strong earthquake — one that has a 50 percent chance of happening in the next 30 years.
Attorneys for builder Tutor Perini Building Co. argue that if CityCenter was so concerned about safety, it would have done more to earthquake-proof the empty building.