The $1.9 billion Palazzo resort claims to be the largest green-certified structure in the world. Photo courtesy of the Palazzo.


Las Vegas - home to 24-hour air-conditioned casinos, blazing neon lights and lush golf courses in the middle of the desert - a “green” city? It’s an idea that might make many of the almost 40 million people who visit each year laugh. But despite a worldwide reputation built on greed and excess, city and state officials are getting serious about conserving resources in southern Nevada, one of the nation’s fastest growing areas.

Consider:

• The Southern Nevada Water Authority pays residents $1.50 per square foot to replace suburban lawns with natural vegetation such as flowers, plants and trees.

• In 2005, the state Legislature passed generous tax credits for projects that conform to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification standards. It also requires new or substantially renovated public structures to meet green-building standards.

• For several years, many of the area’s major resorts have participated in recycling programs and encouraged guests to reuse bed sheets and bath towels, reducing water usage.

• The Las Vegas Strip is home to what is being billed as the world’s largest LEED-certified project - and it’s a casino.

The Palazzo, a $1.9 billion resort, opened in January. Dwarfing adjacent sister property the Venetian, it boasts 3,000 suite-size hotel rooms, a 105,000-square-foot casino and a 80-foot-high dome ceiling that ensures the hotel lobby is awash in natural light - a rarity for Nevada casino-hotels.

Other examples of the resort’s environmental friendliness aren’t so obvious, but officials with Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns the resort, are quick to point them out.

CityCenter, an $8 billion MGM Mirage project now under construction in Las Vegas, is also hoping for LEED certification when it opens in late 2009. Image courtesy of MGM Mirage.

Using the sun

The swimming pools use solar power, soaking up Nevada’s abundant summer sunshine. The extra energy generated is routed to the hotel’s hot-water tanks, cutting back on the need to heat water for guests’ use. Extensive use of artificial turf, drip irrigation and moisture sensors cuts the need to water plants by 75 percent. Lighting in staff areas is automatically turned off when not in use. A jobsite recycling program ensured 70 percent of waste did not end up in a landfill, and the building’s steel is made of 95 percent recycled content. The concrete averaged 26 percent recycled content.

“Las Vegas Sands’ development team worked closely with LEED consultants to establish an array of strategies and develop a truly ‘green’ building,” said Brad Stone, Las Vegas Sands Corp. executive vice president. “The total annual environmental savings generated as a result of our commitment to green technology and construction is staggering and we are convinced that this will have a positive impact for years to come.”

The building’s HVAC system is also designed to work efficiently. Unlike many Las Vegas casinos that seem to blast 60°F air throughout the property from May through October, the Palazzo’s guest suites have a feature that raises the temperature when the room is empty.

Bathroom plumbing fixtures such as showerheads and toilets use 37 percent less water than conventional models.

Recognition

In addition to its LEED-silver certification, the resort and company officials were honored at an April 9 ceremony by Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons; David E. Rodgers, the deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency at the U.S. Department of Energy; and Rick Fedrizzi, USGBC president and CEO.

“From the beginning, we were determined to create Las Vegas’ first truly eco-friendly property and we are extremely proud to have achieved it and be recognized for it,” said Sheldon G. Adelson, chairman and chief executive officer with Las Vegas Sands Corp. “There is an increasing necessity to employ ‘green’ construction principles and we are proud to be a leader in the evolution of environmentally focused building practices, not only on the Las Vegas Strip, but at Las Vegas Sands’ properties throughout the world.”

At the ceremony, USGBC officials pointed out that the 50-story resort is four times larger than the previous LEED record-holder, Pittsburgh’s convention center.

“The Palazzo is to be commended for achieving LEED certification,” Fedrizzi said. “This facility is one that both the community and its guests can be proud of.”

Although other high-profile projects have achieved LEED certification in the past, the Palazzo has the potential to be more influential than some other green-building projects, said Brendan Owens, the council’s vice president of LEED technical development.

“This is a huge win - no pun intended,” Owens said, adding that projects like the Palazzo are “educational opportunities” to show what a “green” building can be.

The Palazzo isn’t the only casino complex striving for LEED certification. Further south on the Las Vegas Strip, between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo resorts, the $8 billion CityCenter is reshaping the skyline. More than just a casino-resort, the project is billed by developer MGM Mirage as “a dazzling vertical city in the heart of Las Vegas’ sprawling horizontal grid.”

Expected to cover 76 acres, it will include a 61-story, 4,000-room hotel tower, two 400-room hotels without gambling, 2,650 condominium units, a 500,000-square-foot retail complex and employ 12,000 once completed.

MGM Mirage, a member of the USGBC, is expecting its “city within a city” to be certified as a LEED-silver structure when it opens in late 2009. Before construction began, 90 percent of the remnants of the Boardwalk, a casino-hotel that previously occupied the site, were reused or recycled. Concrete debris was crushed and used to fill in the worksite. Scrap steel was sold, and old furnishings and fixtures were donated to area charities.

“Designing CityCenter with sustainable elements and practices reinforces its permanence and creates a healthier environment for our future tenants and guests, as well as for the 12,000 people who will ultimately work at CityCenter,” said Robert Baldwin, chief of design and construction with MGM Mirage and president and CEO of the CityCenter project.

The project is securing local building materials whenever available, and using paints, adhesives and carpeting with as few volatile organic compounds as possible. That should help improve the facility’s indoor air quality, casino officials say.

Once open, CityCenter will generate its own power, thanks to an on-site heat and power plant.

MGM officials hope it helps turn Las Vegas into a major U.S. urban hub.

“The development of CityCenter marks a significant milestone in our vision to create a living experience like none other in Las Vegas,” said Terry Lanni, MGM Mirage chairman and chief executive officer. “CityCenter’s stunning contemporary architecture coupled with its singular collection of amenities will set this global city apart as a place not just to visit, but to live.”

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail devriesj@bnpmedia.com.

LEED approval for smoky casinos has some activists fuming

As casino developers tout the environmentally friendly features of their projects, the idea that a smoke-filled Las Vegas casino could ever be considered “green” has some people smoldering.

One of the prerequisites for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design approval is that indoor smoking either be banned entirely or only allowed in specially ventilated rooms that do not allow any secondhand smoke to escape. And that’s a problem for Las Vegas casinos, where cigarette and cigar smoke is as much a part of the ambiance as free alcohol and clanging slot machines.

While a few states with commercial casinos have banned smoking in recent years, Nevada is unlikely to join them anytime soon. Voters passed a statewide smoking ban in 2006 backed by major anti-smoking groups such as the American Cancer Society. Although it removed smoke from most public places in the Silver State, casino gambling areas were exempted to keep the deep pockets of Nevada’s biggest industry out of the fight.

Smoking is allowed in the casino and some bars and hotel rooms at the Palazzo. The owners of CityCenter and Echelon Place, two other mega casino projects hoping for LEED certification, have no plans to ban smoking on gambling floors. However, officials say they will use the newest technology to ensure secondhand smoke does not infiltrate nonsmoking areas.

But that’s not good enough for critics, who say the resorts should not earn the certification - or the state tax credits that go with them - unless they are completely nonsmoking.

Officials with the U.S. Green Building Council point out that the group will not be certifying the areas where smoking will be allowed, and measures will be taken to keep smoke from drifting into the certified parts of the resorts.

Brendan Owens, the council’s vice president of LEED technical development, said the casino floor represents a very small portion of the 7 million-square-foot Palazzo, and the council wanted to recognize those involved in the project “for what they were able to achieve.”