Las Vegas New Year’s Eve Prep Takes Year Effort

A destination devoted to entertaining visitors every single day can’t just throw any old party to ring in the New Year.

For one night only, about 340,000 people spending some $226 million are expected to crowd the Strip and downtown Fremont Street all looking to be wowed – and for that reason, Las Vegas casino operators, event planners, tourism agencies and more have spent months if not the entire year planning ways to do so.

The result? A veritable revelry buffet to choose from, some free, most at a price, quite a bit so exclusive it requires an invite from the hotel-casinos throwing the parties for prized customers. Showrooms will welcome A-list performers such as Jennifer Lopez at Caesars Palace, new duo Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga at Cosmopolitan and Maroon 5 at Mandalay Bay. Nightclubs promise performers Iggy Azalea and Drake, among others. And if a flashback is desired, downtown Fremont will offer 13 rock tribute bands (Fan Halen, Queen Nation, Led Zepagain and more).

Photo: Evan Agostini / Invision / AP
"Z100 Jingle Ball," Madison Square Garden Arena, New York City

But, really, most will only need to look up.

Fireworks will shoot from the roofs of seven Strip hotel-casinos timed to a medley of pop music.

Groups wanting an eye-level or aerial view of the fireworks show can buy a spot inside the orbs of the new, perpetually moving High Roller observation wheel on the Strip that will come to a halt during a portion of the show. Package deals start at $2,500.

Inside, and in some cases outside, exclusive parties will be staged at much expense by the Strip’s biggest properties for its (very) very important people. And with some VIPs weighing multiple invites, it’s an on-going quest by casino-hotels to bring the party.

Teams of people from MGM Resorts events – among them painters, digital artists, event managers and floral designers – work in the company’s 110,000 square-foot warehouse space off the Strip and begin planning next year’s New Year’s Eve shortly after the last one.

“Really, they’re storytellers,” said Lenny Talarico, director of events.

“New Year’s Eve, it’s a show. A one night show.”

Demo rooms inside the company’s warehouse have 24-foot high ceilings and lighting revealing a mini version of the party to come. There are buckets of blue gems for floral arrangements, trays of moss and gigantic centerpieces waiting for fresh flowers.

The warehouse space could be a scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory without the candy, complete with a mirrored piano hanging from the ceiling. There’s a forest of flocked pine trees down one aisle and a sitting Buddha statue on a shelf taller than a standing adult, not to mention a giant hand holding a light bulb – a relic among many once built by the team of artisans for a convention group that’s been repurposed event after event.

Even the most exclusive of parties has competition with the cheapest form of entertainment for anyone within sight of the Las Vegas Strip: a seven minute, 11 second fireworks show from the top of seven Strip properties.

No matter how spectacular the entertainment or party environs are inside, “11:30 p.m., quarter to 12, the room clears out,” said Jim McCoy, director of production overseeing all of the event fabrications. “The Strip is our Times Square.”

For the first time, the company is building a platform for invited guests to watch the fireworks from the water next to The Mirage’s fire-breathing volcano.

Before and after the fireworks, it’s the job of McCoy’s team – who has built Buddhist temples, sets for movies and Broadway, and ice sculpting – to create worlds of whimsy.

Photo: Kimberly Pierceall/AP
A Buddha statue inside a warehouse for MGM resorts event productions in Las Vegas, Nev.

“January 2,” said McCoy, without pause, when asked what he’s looking forward to most. And also that brief moment when he and his staff can exhale and watch the faces of people seeing the first glimpses of the parties on New Year’s Eve night.

“That’s when the curtain goes up and it’s show time, folks,” he said.