In a surprising revelation, the reason behind MGM Resorts' $54 million acquisition of a 1.62-acre strip of land separating the Cosmopolitan from the Bellagio in 2023 has come to light through a Clark County permit application leak. The secretive purchase, once shrouded in mystery, is now understood to be part of an ambitious expansion plan for a new three-floored shopping plaza, as revealed by diagrams first shared by Scott Roeben, the blogger behind's Vital Vegas.

The grand expansion: Project Mojave

The project, tentatively named "Project Mojave," will see the construction of a grand shopping complex extending from the Bellagio's main entrance to Las Vegas Boulevard. This development will replace the existing elevated pedestrian bridge connecting the Bellagio entrance to the Strip, which is set for demolition. The plaza will cover an impressive 400,000 sq. feet, encompassing high-end shops, dining establishments, and nightclub spaces.

The proposed second floor will house five upscale restaurants and 17 retail shops, with five of these shops and two restaurants also extending to the upper level. The top floor is the largest, covering 46,000 sq. ft. along with a spectacular view of the Strip and the Bellagio fountains. Additionally, the key features include a 10,000 sq. ft. club complemented by a 6,200 sq. ft. infinity pool, promising a lavish rooftop experience.

Enhanced Strip accessibility along with aesthetic upgrades

In addition to the retail and entertainment spaces, the project plans include the replacement of the current Bellagio sign with a larger, state-of-the-art LED sign. New walker bridges will also be constructed from the second floor, linking Planet Hollywood and the Cosmopolitan. With this enhancement, pedestrian congestion on the Strip can be alleviated and foot traffic can be more streamlined between these iconic properties.

The design of this ambitious project is credited to Marnell Architecture, the same firm whose lead architect was behind the original design of the Bellagio. The intricate planning and aesthetic consideration ensure that the new development will blend seamlessly with the luxurious atmosphere of its neighboring landmarks.

Historical context and ownership dynamics

The land parcel at the heart of this development has a long and storied history. Initially, Steve Wynn, former owner of the Bellagio, was compelled to lease the parcel from a prior owner who refused to sell it. Then, MGM Resorts inherited this lease when they acquired the Bellagio in 2000 for a cool $6.4 billion. Later, in 2022, they exercised the option to purchase the parcel after securing the operating rights to the Cosmopolitan from Blackstone for $1.6 billion.

For years, this tiny strip of land served a series of practical purposes for MGM, functioning as a parking lot, a road, as well as garbage storage for the Bellagio. But since its zoning status was as a vacant lot, this necessitated a rezoning approval from Clark County for MGM's new project to proceed.

Interestingly enough, the parcel of land in question is one of the few remaining properties that MGM Resorts actually owns on the Las Vegas Strip. The trend among casino companies has shifted towards owning operating rights rather than the physical properties themselves. MGM's real estate assets have largely been sold off in recent years. For instance, in 2019, MGM was able to sell the property assets of the Bellagio to BREIT (Blackstone Real Estate Income Trust) for up to $4.25 billion through a sale-leaseback arrangement. Subsequently, BREIT, in turn, sold a stake of the Bellagio property to Realty Income for $950 million in August last year.

Similarly, when Blackstone offered to sell the Cosmopolitan to MGM for $5.65 billion in 2021, the transaction excluded the real estate, which was acquired separately by the Cherng Family Trust, the Stonepeak Partners, and BREIT for $4 billion.

Project timeline and future prospects

As of now, MGM Resorts has not disclosed a timeline for the construction or completion of Project Mojave. The anticipation surrounding this development adds a new chapter to the dynamic landscape of the Las Vegas Strip, promising to enhance the attraction and offerings of this world-renowned destination.

All in all, the $54 million land purchase by MGM Resorts, initially puzzling to many, is set to become a landmark development. Project Mojave is primed to redefine the luxury retail and entertainment experience on the Strip, solidifying MGM's innovative vision that elevates Las Vegas's global appeal.