LAS VEGAS – A middle-aged couple strolled hand-in-hand along the long, covered walkway leading from the Las Vegas Strip to the entrance of the Bellagio, stopping only briefly to glimpse the casino resort’s famous fountains rising into the sky in the distance.
Looking unsatisfied from the distant view – which everyone now has access to, blocking the traditional viewing area at the front of the building – the pair turned and continued walking.
“What are you building?” the man asked.
“Another hotel,” the woman replied confidently.
In reality, it’s not just another hotel – but given the size and scope of the project, one could probably mistake the construction for a temporary set-up. On the lakefront boardwalk, one of the Strip’s most famous locations, MGM Resorts is putting together what will become the wildly luxurious Bellagio Falls Club — with high-end dining and Formula 1 cars predictably descending the Strip. 212 mph when the Las Vegas Grand Prix comes to town in late November.
Three-day ticket packages to the Falls Club can be yours for just $11,247. By the way, this is for one person.
Even if the tourist couple doesn’t realize what they’re seeing, most visitors do. F1 is hard to miss for anyone in Las Vegas these days. Strips of lights stretch for more than a mile west of the Strip, major side streets are bisected by racetrack fences, and the fountains rise in front of popular attractions like the Bellagio Fountains and Mirage Volcano (partly on the water).
F1 branding is everywhere, and it all serves as a big promotion for what’s to come.
“This is F1 here!” A man said to his friends, walking out of Harrah’s and pointing to the pillows across the street.
Someone outside the Cosmopolitan noticed the fresh asphalt placed on the southbound lanes of Las Vegas Blvd. And asked the group, “If I get November tickets, do you want to go?” it has.
A month out from the Grand Prix, track meets are a somewhat fragmented scene that coexists with (relatively) normal life in Vegas.
On the footbridge outside the Cosmo, Lewis Hamilton drummed on the white buckets of the bus passing underneath before making a left turn onto Harmon Street. Around the corner outside the Flamingo and across the street, Max Verstappen’s Red Bull will soon be roaring, “Dancing Grandpa” to loud music, drawing a crowd. Mickey Mouse and Bumblebee from the “Transformers” cable car Mirage on passers-by just feet from the DRS zone for a photo.
The smell of marijuana hangs in the air as push workers try to pass out “Girls straight to you” flashing ads on the little cards – not exactly the glamorous image F1 is going for. But whether anyone is ready or not, the Strip will have a very different vibe in just a few weeks.
Near the intersection of Harmon and Koval Lane, on a previously vacant 39-acre site just around the corner from an apartment complex and Top Golf, F1 is building an impressive 300,000-square-foot pit building with garages, suites and a roof deck. A huge screen in the shape of the F1 logo. The building has three American football fields and includes a grand entrance with projectors and a video screen. It also happens to be the only permanent structure where everyone gathers for the Grand Prix.
F1 owner Liberty Media has spent $240 million on the space alone, which is racing itself instead of relying on a promoter for the first time. In August, Liberty said the race expected total capital expenditures of about $400 million.
On a recent tour of the gleaming new well building, a worker filled the soap dispensers in the high-end bathrooms (which feature black and red finishes and lighting) ahead of the inspection required for a certificate of occupancy. But there’s still a lot of work to be done on other parts of the property, which includes a raised grandstand, all team accommodation structures in the paddock area and turns 1-4 of the track – including the start/finish line.
From the top of the well building, you can get a general idea of where the circuit will travel. It crosses the property and through the intersection of Koval and Flamingo Streets – Tupac Shakur Featuring performances from Jay Balvin, Major Lazer and Mark Ronson.
Then it’s a turn down Sands Avenue, the cars zip past the convention center and turn left on the strip between Venice and Wynn. But if last week’s construction-related traffic on the sand is any indication, F1 cars will only be moving faster on race weekends.
Vegas residents are “not really” excited
“If you don’t know where you’re going now, it can take you 30 minutes to get to two casinos on the Strip,” said Dale Courson, who has driven cabs in Vegas for 12 years. “And it’s going to get worse.”
Corson asked local residents to “guess every morning” where the construction would take place because of the traffic jams caused by track construction and the unexpected road closures that come with it. Alternate routes are frequently needed, but not adequately connected.
Traffic will be so bad during the race weekend, Corson said, that he plans to take the three days off instead of trying to shuttle customers through the gridlock.
Disgruntled locals also include race fans. Marshall Harhay, who has lived in Las Vegas since 1982, was excited to hear F1 was coming to town and hoped to attend the race with his son.
But when the Harheis looked at ticket prices that started at $1,500 each for a grandstand seat, they realized that “regular people” like themselves couldn’t afford to go.
“Being a local guy, all the conversations I’ve had with my friends are about being uncomfortable,” Harhay said as he prepared to watch the latest NASCAR race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “There is no joy in the race or the race.”
Of course, that will always be the case. The concept of an F1 race in Las Vegas is focused on an over-the-top experience imaginable, despite the fact that 100,000 fans are expected to attend each day. If you don’t see it in Vegas, the risk of cool FOMO among the rich and cool, and all are clamoring to find one of the VIP hospitality areas, be it in the pit building, the viewing area on the casino property. Or trendy spots like the Red Bull Energy Station and the nightlife-inspired Heineken House.
And for those wondering if you can get around high ticket prices by getting a table at a strip-side restaurant? We didn’t find one in the few hours we walked last week. Employees at Margaritaville, Bubba Gump, Rainforest Cafe and Sugar Factory — all with prime views of the race — said they were booked for all three days of the race weekend.
The (construction) show must go on.
The city will continue to transform over the next few weeks as other high-end hospitality zones and much of the track structure are completed in the coming weeks. Although most areas have returned to their default look since F1 left town, one area has already been permanently altered.
The resort cut down 40 mature trees planted in the late 1990s from the Dunes Golf Course to build the clubhouse, which faces the Bellagio Falls. The trees are now turned into wood chips and distributed in the local parks, which worries some local residents.
“We didn’t really know what was going on in our city,” Harhay said. Even though we’re locals and everyone says we don’t go down to the Strip, it’s still our Strip. When we found out that they cut down the trees in front of the Bellagio and changed that area, it hurt a little. It was kind of like shell shock.
But despite all the potential pitfalls and negative perception, Harhai struck a welcoming note when asked if he had a message for F1 fans coming soon to the most hyped motorsports race in history.
“Come to Vegas and spend your money,” he said. “Make no mistake – we love the economic impact.”