JoAnna Haugen
JoAnna Haugen

InsightOn New Year's Eve, Caesars Entertainment will open the first stage of the Linq: the first open air retail, dining and entertainment district on the Strip. More than 30 shops, restaurants and other venues will be anchored by the Linq's High Roller, the world’s tallest observation wheel.

The High Roller has already changed the Las Vegas skyline, but what makes the Linq a real game changer here is the fact that it is an outdoor, pedestrian-friendly area that will be blocked off to traffic, lined with trees, and won’t require people to wander through miles of slot machines.

“Not only is it one of the first multi-faceted outdoor spaces on the Strip with shopping, nightlife, entertainment and dining, but you won’t actually have to walk through a casino to get to it,” says Aleza Freeman, attractions expert for Vegas.com.

Over the last year, Las Vegas’s downtown began offering open-air experiences, previously a foreign concept to the city. Newly opened restaurants began offering outdoor seating; the Downtown Grand hotel encouraged patrons to explore the surrounding Downtown3rd neighborhood; and open-air festivals invited visitors to wander from business to business.JoAnnaHaugen

While the idea that visitors might want to get outside was embraced downtown, the Las Vegas Strip had kept patrons indoors — until now. Following the opening of the Linq, MGM is also responding to the outdoor trend, building an outdoor promenade running from New York-New York to Monte Carlo, with dining and retails spaces opening in 2014.

These changes reflect the evolving Las Vegas traveler, which has altered the way the city is defined.

Las Vegas travelers are increasingly spending more money and time away from tables and slots: Only 72% of visitors to Vegas gambled in 2012, down from 85% in 2008, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The Linq is poised to meet changing visitor interests and combat “Sin City” stereotypes.

“I think it will help solidify Las Vegas as a destination for more than just gambling,” Freeman said. “[This is] an international city with a ton of world-class dining, entertainment and nightlife options.” 

The Linq is being built in an alleyway between the Quad and Flamingo Las Vegas that no one had previously noticed, but where an estimated 20.4 million visitors would walk right past every year.

Banking on this lost opportunity, the Linq is planned to appeal to the region’s growing Gen X and Gen Y clientele, whose market share is estimated to grow to 52% of Las Vegas visitor spending by 2015, according to Caesars.

Freeman points out that the space’s literal transformation from a service alley into an urban outdoor space catering to a comfortable environment for pedestrians of all ages reflects a more “grown-up” Las Vegas atmosphere.

“We’ll probably always be Sin City on some level,” she says, “but there is so much more to us than that.”

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