LAS VEGAS – Las Vegas is trying to beat its reputation as a shut-in.
MGM Resorts International announced Thursday that it will sink $100 million into building a park and public promenade outside of its New York-New York and Monte Carlo casinos.
The project runs counter to casinos' long-held strategy of trying to keep people inside, losing track of time as they buy more chips and flit from one pricey attraction to the next.
"It's what customers were really excited about in the '80s and '90s — the convenience of being in a single environment when you could sample so many different kinds of entertainment," MGM CEO Jim Murren said in a telephone interview. "Tomorrow's consumer doesn't want that limitation. They are far more spontaneous."
To that end, MGM is transforming the congested sidewalks in front of its New York City and European-themed casinos into an outdoor plaza featuring trees, benches, food trucks and shops. Construction is expected to begin in the coming weeks and last through 2014.
Murren said he was inspired by New York City's small and cosmopolitan Madison Square Park, as opposed to the more sprawling Central Park.
"We're not going to play Frisbee on the Great Lawn, but I would describe it as a city park with a dramatic boulevard," he said.
Tourists will be able to stroll over a replica of the Brooklyn Bridge, relax in a beer garden, and enjoy a cone of frozen custard from Shake Shack, an upscale burger stand that has become a New York favorite.
Artist's renderings depict Gen Xers fiddling with smartphones under shade trees.
MGM already controls the Strip's largest venue, the 17,000-seat MGM Grand Garden, located across the street at the MGM Grand.
Strip casinos have traditionally invested in grand facades and outdoor gimmicks including exploding volcanoes and dancing fountains in the service of luring people inside.
This is the town that has perfected the art of painting clouds, sun, and changing light onto the ceilings of malls and hotels to give visitors the illusion of being outside.
Visitors to Las Vegas craving desert breezes, outdoor concerts and a sense time passing have traditionally had to travel a few miles north of the Strip to Freemont Street downtown, where lower-rent casinos open onto a promenade covered by an arching LED-screen canopy.
Now, casino bosses are starting to believe their patrons might enjoy a bit of fresh air.
The rise of pool parties and the success of the statue-filled plaza at Caesars Palace illustrate people's willingness to tolerate the 117 degree desert afternoons for a bit of people-watching and leg-stretching, Murren said.
Caesars Entertainment Corp., which operates Caesars Palace, is planning its own outdoor shopping and dining "district" on the Strip. That project, Linq, is anchored by a 550-foot-tall observation wheel slated to open in 2014.
Murren said he expects to see more casinos pursuing this tack as companies look to entice a new kind of patron. Modern visitors simply will not tolerate being confined to a single space anymore, he said.
"They like darting in and out of events, bars, lounges, clubs," he said. "That's an encouraging sign for us, because in the old days, Las Vegas was a place where gamblers went on vacation. Now it's a place where people may go on vacation and not gamble at all."
Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier