MGM Resorts International’s Joyen Vakil Rethinks Entertainment

Joyen Vakil explains how MGM Resorts International is rethinking the entertainment model that keeps guests indoors with a new outdoor dining and entertainment district on the famed Las Vegas Strip

The Park features 100-foot-long misting water walls along its promenade. Photo by Francis+Francis

Joyen Vakil, SVP, Design & Development. Photo courtesy of MGM Resorts International

Las Vegas casinos have a reputation for being deliberately dizzying. Ringing slot machines, unfathomable carpet patterns, pan-continental dining options, and ponderous interior layouts conspire to create an experience that entertains, captivates, and—most of all—keeps guests indoors where they can gamble and spend.

However, with The Park, a three-acre, $100 million outdoor dining and entertainment district between its Monte Carlo and New York-New York Hotel & Casino properties, MGM Resorts International challenges the orthodox. The Park invites guests outdoors and banks on the appeal of fast-casual restaurants, public art, theatrical lighting, and misting 100-foot-long water walls to keep guests enthralled and entertained.

“The environments that have been created in Las Vegas over a period of a few decades have been very introverted,” according to Joyen Vakil, vice president of design and development at MGM Resorts International. “We want to make an environment that is extroverted as well. We’re saying, ‘Hey, we have the opportunity to create a space where guests can enjoy the outdoors.’ And that’s unique. Never before has a park been built on The Strip.”

The MGM-led collaboration of Marnell Architecture, !melk landscape architecture & urban design, and master planner Cooper Robertson & Partners takes its inspiration from the walkable plazas, promenades, and squares that have served as public gathering spots throughout Europe. Agave, yucca, acacias, and mesquites—about 3,000 indigenous plants and shrubs total—are situated along a promenade of hand-laid marble in mosaic tile grounds. The design serves as a gateway to the newly opened 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena.

“When you look at what has been done in Europe and civilization over a period of time, we have finessed an architectural approach and master plan in cities in which the instrumental thing is cobblestones—hand-laid streets, pedestrian plazas, and blocks with different styles of rocks and granite, and, in a number of cases, marble,” Vakil says. “We took that approach to think about the space and materials used as sympathetic to the environment.”

Opened on April 4, 2016, the unveiling of The Park was well-timed. Plans for a newly branded Monte Carlo Resort and Casino were announced in a news release on June 3, 2016. The approximately $450 million transformation will touch every element of the property and include two distinct hotels: a Las Vegas version of Sydell’s widely acclaimed NoMad Hotel, and the launch of a new luxury hotel named Park MGM.

Steel-plated structures designed by IHC Studio Metalix cast geometric shadows over The Park. Photo by Francis+Francis

With its central location on The Strip, Park MGM will provide guests direct access to T-Mobile Arena and The Park, as well as The Park Theater—a 5,300-seat, $100 million entertainment venue, which at press time was scheduled to open by the end of 2016. The Park will trace a path from Park MGM to the New York-New York property.

Visitors along the promenade are already finding respite from the restless hum of casinos beneath a canopy of 200 mature trees. Towering steel-plated shade structures (designed by Netherlands-based ship and aircraft manufacturer IHC Studio Metalix) weigh up to 44,000 pounds and rise up to 75 feet from the ground to cast playful geometric shadows. Restaurants and a beer garden open onto The Park, where patio seating invites socialization. Nearby, alcoves of red meta-quartzite stone sourced from Las Vegas Rock’s Rainbow Quarry provide visitors with a more intimate setting.

At the center of all of this is Bliss Dance, a 40-foot-tall steel sculpture by artist Marco Cochrane. The structure, which debuted at Burning Man and depicts dancer Deja Solis, is held up by cables and illuminated by nearly 3,000 colored LED lights at night.

You might think that putting this focus on the outdoors (including the dry heat that tops 100 degrees in the summer) and away from the glitz and glamour of gaming tables is a risky move for MGM, but Vakil says new options are important.

MGM readies A new look for the las vegas strip


Park MGM is a new concept by MGM and Sydell, designed as a roughly 2,700-room luxury resort and built upon the property’s history, incorporating its European design influences while retaining a powerful connection to The Park just next door. Working with British designer Martin Brudnizki, Sydell Group and MGM will create a distinctly residential feel and thoroughly transform the resort’s public areas. Clean lines will define the architecture of each space, combined with classically inspired European furnishings as well as a robust art program.


Since opening in 2012, NoMad’s New York flagship has earned many accolades for its restoration of a turn-of-the-century Beaux-Arts building into a beautiful hotel that fuses the traditions of Europe’s grand hotels with a modern approach to service. The NoMad Las Vegas will offer a complete hotel experience to its guests, including 292 rooms and suites, a dedicated drop-off, lobby, and swimming pool, as well as NoMad gaming, eating, and drinking experiences.

“Our customers are discriminating,” he says. “They don’t want to be cooped up. They want to be able to flow in and out of the environment. This is not threatening to our core business; it’s providing choice so customers are empowered to make their own decisions.”

It’s also, as Vakil acknowledges, a strategy to lure wandering passersby, who might not be staying at MGM Resorts’ flagship hotels, but could be enticed to check out Park MGM (currently Monte Carlo) or New York-New York, or the properties’ retail or dining offerings.

“This is a pedestrian floor of 20 million people,” he says. “If you put a wall in their face, people are not going to be inclined to come to your property. You’ve got to open the doors to your house.” 

Nevertheless, opening those doors requires a design approach that keeps visitors cool. Marble was chosen for the promenade, Vakil says, because of its low heat retention. Two 100-foot-long water walls also create a microclimate that provides respite from the asphalt and urban traffic of the surrounding city.

In fact, all phases of the project reflect a robust environmental sustainability program, Vakil says. The restaurant corridor was built to LEED Gold standards. Furniture, shade structures, waste bins, tree grates, and building structures were manufactured using combinations of pre- and post-consumer recycled steel. Point-source drippers that conserve 72 percent more water than traditional sprinklers and an anemometer that controls water features based on wind speeds will save millions of gallons of water each year, according to a company news release.

“We, as a company, pay a lot of attention to nature, utilizing as much of the natural environment in the design as possible, and being sustainable in terms of our projects and in the day-to-day operations of the company,” Vakil says. “It’s  a firm conviction of our CEO Jim Murren, and it’s woven through every aspect of our business.”

tom-ruscitti-7680_circleTHE WIDER VIEW

with Guest Editor Tom Ruscitti

TR: With the multitude of professional service providers, material suppliers, and vendors, how do you stay proximate—or even relevant—to the details required by such a reputable gaming, hospitality, and entertainment brand?

JV: Our needs and quest to provide the best for our customers necessitate collaboration with leaders in their respective fields from around the world. We constantly collaborate with such leaders to provide us with professional services and to supply material. We try to stay current with the trends and the latest developments in the field and strive to raise the bar.

TR: What differentiates your deployment process and team from the more ubiquitous commercial real estate development industry?

JV: Our team is made up of highly motivated subject matter experts. Our company’s senior leadership recognizes the need to make quick decisions, which provides clear direction to the team and allows the team to do what they do best. In the process, we may discover better ways of doing things, and we quickly correct our course as soon as we recognize it. We empower the teams and eliminate bureaucracy.

TR: What is your team’s mission statement, or even credo?

JV: MGM Resorts International is the recognized global leader in entertainment and hospitality—a diverse mix of extraordinary people, distinctive brands, and best-in-class destinations. Working together, we engage, entertain, and inspire.

TR: What do you do to decompress from an industry where survival is never sufficient? 

JV: I like to spend time with family and friends. As a family, we love to travel and visit “new” and “old” places. Travel is not only relaxing and fun—it teaches you a lot about history, art, culture, and architecture, among many other things. These experiences allow you to create the best environments and spaces.