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A vision of Manhattan in Las Vegas

Dec 21, 2004 6:27 AM

 

Jim Murren isn’t satisfied with being a visionary.

When it comes time for him to leave this world, he wants his legacy to be something more than a transformed Strip. He and his wife will leave behind the Nevada Cancer Institute, a non-profit institution dedicated to providing a comprehensive care center for victims of the dreaded disease (see accompanying story).

Murren, the president and the chief financial officer of MGM Mirage, has a vision of the Strip that has little to do with what he calls "yesterday’s thinking" in terms of how property should be developed and utilized along the fabled section of Las Vegas Boulevard. Instead of building yet another megaresort with a state of the art casino big enough for a sea of slots, Murren envisions a mixed use area of the Strip that "would create a true urban environment."

Specifically, he wants the MGM Mirage’s Project CityCenter to produce "a myriad of neighborhoods" that are "pedestrian friendly." He said the neighborhoods are intended to be like the SoHo district in New York City with a diversity of retail, residential, and entertainment.

Murren says what the city needs is "to do something more valuable with the land so that when you fly into McCarran you feel like you’re flying into Tokyo o or New York City. We don’t have the excitement, we don’t have the fabric of a big city."

Project CityCenter is projected to be built on 66 acres between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo. It is conceived to have 1,650 luxury condominium-hotel units and 550,000 square feet of retail, dining and entertainment space. The plan also calls for a 4,000-room hotel and casino and three 400 room boutique hotels. The project comes with an estimated price tag of $3 billion to $4 billion.

In short, Murren wants Project CityCenter to be a place where people live routine lives and interact with their neighbors, and not just a place where tourists come to gamble. "People (actually) living on the Strip is the most exciting" part of the project he says. "What we have here (now in Las Vegas) is typical Southwestern sprawl where people seldom know their neighbors. It has been the most expedient and cost effective way to grow but not the best (way)."

Murren, who describes himself as a Connecticut boy, knows about urban environments after having spent 14 years on Wall Street as a high-ranking equity analyst. After earning a BA degree in art history and urban studies from Trinity College in Connecticut, he lived first in the East Village and then the Upper West Side of Manhattan as he worked his way up in the world of high finance.

Murren came to Las Vegas in 1998 as executive vice president and chief financial officer of MGM Mirage, and the following year he was elevated to president and chief financial officer. He says he "took a huge pay cut to come here (but) I was granted equity in the company. I took stock options and it has worked out well."

Murren says that in his seven years with the company his most disappointing experience has been "the prevailing attitude among many (East Coast residents) that Las Vegas is all about showgirls and gambling and entertainers at the end of their careers." He says that the Las Vegas he knows is not the Las Vegas that is projected to the rest of the world.

His other frustration is the "negative energy" among some of the gaming operators in the city. "Egos get in the way of practical business judgment," he says. "It’s counterproductive that people sometimes don’t mind their own business."

He says he thinks his counterparts and colleagues in the hotel-casino industry would characterize him as a "fair person (who is) approachable and friendly. I think I am very competitive. I work hard to be a fair person."

Murren says he relaxes by working out every morning "and we do a lot of family activities (like) hiking (and) taking overnight trips around Nevada" with his wife, who is the CEO of the Nevada Cancer Institute, and their two sons ages 9 and 6.

During his relatively short time in Las Vegas, Murren, has already made his mark, and his footprint in the Valley is certain to grow even bigger as he follows his plan "to see the cancer institute through to its potential." His roots in Las Vegas are likely to grow quite a bit as longer since "I hope to work for this company as long as they want me" and "my family can envision living nowhere else."