Recreating Old World European Ambiance In U.S. Mixed Use Projects

LAS VEGAS? Why travel to Europe when resorts in the United States are recreating the old world ambiance of villages abroad such as Portofino and Venice? For a fraction of the travel time, guests can experience these renowned European destinations right down to the last detail? stepping from hometown USA into an Italian village dripping with culture. Resorts such as the Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Studios Escape in Orlando, FL and The Venetian located here are just two of the growing number of resorts to offer such experiences. But these intricate villages are no small feat to recreate, as several design firms involved in the projects will attest. Not only must the design teams research the destination being duplicated, but thousands of artisans must be used to construct statuaries, hand-painted frescoes and landmarks indicative of the village?s time and culture. The $1.5 billion luxury resort known as The Venetian is a reproduction of Venice to scale, complete with landmarks that lend it authenticity. The hotel opened last spring with significant fanfare. ?When we first started this we asked ourselves, ?How can we make this as real as possible??? said Tom Fo of WAT&G who worked on the resort. ?We decided which icons and buildings would give the feeling of Venice and used them as the pivotal points of the project.? The resort features a bell tower that is a full-sized reproduction of Venice?s renowned Campanile, right down to the 15-foot statue of the biblical archangel Gabriel on top. To get to the hotel, guests must walk across a reproduction of the Rialto canal bridge, which connects to a reproduced Bridge of Sighs. Even the romantic canals of Venice were recreated. The entire project was a complex exercise that consisted of layering each aspect of the mixed-use facility with the architectural landmarks of Venice, said Fo. But the finished product features a seamless transition from the 6,000-room hotel, to the 500,000-square-foot Grand Canal Shops, to its 19 dining venues and 120,000 square feet of gambling. Inside, which was designed by Wilson & Associates of Beverly Hills, is as intricate as the exteriors. Using a photographic catalog of original Venetian artwork and design as a guideline, suites 700 square feet in size were finely appointed with lush canopy bed chambers, Italian marble bathrooms and a plush sunken living room area. Similar pains were taken to recreate the Portofino Bay Hotel a Loews Hotel at Universal Studios Escape, which is modeled after an old harborside village, Portofino, Italy. The property, which debuted last month, is located on the northeast corner of a 900-acre site owned by Universal Studios. The hotel centers around an authentic replication of the perimeter of the harbor in Portofino, complete with faux columns, pilasters and moldings painted on the exterior like those in the poor fishing village? unlike Venice, the residents of this village could not afford real detailed marble columns and window surrounds. Eight restaurants and bars are located around the piazza, offering a variety of gourmet northern Italian dining options. ?The whole thing is like a religious experience,? said Michael Sansbury, regional vp for Loews Hotels. ?It is such an authentic replication? what were apartments at the village are now guestrooms, what were restaurants are [recreated]restaurants and so on.? The layout of the Portofino is exact to the village itself, said Sansbury. This includes all topography? from elevation levels to the relation between the harbor and hotel and restaurants. Even walkways were replicated in scope and lined with more than 3,600 imported olive and cypress trees indicative of the Mediterranean. ?There is no doubt that guests get a sense of place here. It is like they stepped out of Florida into an Italian village,? Sansbury said. ?Even the buildings which looked like they evolved, were added over time just like the real village,? said Cheryl Newmann, CEO and executive vp of W