Las Vegas

January 30, 2013

More Coverage

Sin City has a history like no other, and new downtown cultural attractions like the Mob Museum, the Smith Center for the Performing Arts and the Neon Museum are capitalizing on its unique past, providing an expanding list of outstanding off-sites.

In addition to some well-established favorites along the Strip, iconic new attractions have opened within the last decade, spotlighting topics such as the desert and atomic testing.

“Las Vegas continues to evolve with a rapidly growing cultural scene,” says Amy Riley, senior director of convention sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “These new venues are keeping the meeting planner in mind and providing space and amenities to host events with a touch of history, culture and entertainment.”

The $42 million Mob Museum, the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, debuted on Valentine’s Day 2012, the 83rd anniversary of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. (One of its artifacts is a brick wall from the massacre scene.)

The city-funded museum is housed in downtown Las Vegas’ restored former federal courthouse and U.S. Post Office, completed in 1933. It includes the restored courtroom where one of 14 national Kefauver hearings on organized crime was held in 1950.

The 41,000-square-foot facility includes 16,800 square feet of exhibition space on three floors. Planners who book a full buyout can host a reception for 400 people, and a tent can be used for larger groups. The Post Office Hallway, for example, can accommodate a reception for 100, the Court Room can handle a seated dinner for 120, and the Second Floor Corridor can host a reception for 100.

“If you are looking for that wow factor that your guests will remember for years to come, this place is for you,” says Maria Sawyer, the Mob Museum’s director of sales. “The Mob Museum’s natural ambience lends itself well to private events and meetings of all shapes, sizes and occasions.”

Full buyouts, she says, have been popular with food concentrated on the second floor, providing a central spot for networking while allowing guests to wander through three floors of exhibits. Smaller groups can start with cocktails on the third floor followed by a courtroom dinner and dessert on the first floor. PageBreak

Home to the Nevada Ballet Theatre and Las Vegas Philharmonic, the Smith Center for the Performing Arts opened in March 2012. More than two decades in the making, it is aimed at providing residents with an all-encompassing cultural experience featuring the very best in arts programming.

Located in downtown’s 61-acre Symphony Park, the center features three performance spaces that are also available for rent: the 2,050-seat Reynolds Hall, the 258-seat Cabaret Jazz and the 250-seat Troesh Studio Theater. There is also a 1.7-acre park for outdoor concerts.

Venue space includes the 5,000-square-foot grand lobby, the 2,500-square-foot mezzanine lounge and a 6,200-square-foot courtyard. The Founders Room seats 20 for dinner, one conference room seats 30, and two others each seat 10.

“The Smith Center boasts some of the most unique, high-quality event spaces you will find. It stimulates creative thought and allows meeting planners to think outside the box,” says Myron Martin, president and CEO of the Smith Center, adding that it can host catered events, keynote speeches and product rollouts for up to 2,000 people. “Smaller groups will love our jazz club, boardroom, grand lobby and breakout spaces.”

A nonprofit group founded in 1996, the Neon Museum claims the world’s largest collection of neon signage. It serves as a record of Las Vegas’ colorful history and is home to more than 150 neon signs dating from the 1930s. Public admission is through one-hour guided tours held Mondays through Saturdays.

Last October, it installed a visitor center, the former La Concha Motel lobby, and officially became available for groups. Just north of downtown, it features the two-acre Boneyard area, which boasts such iconic old signs as the Moulin Rouge, the Desert Inn, the Flamingo and the Stardust.

The La Concha lobby, built in 1961, was saved from demolition in 2005 and moved from its Las Vegas Blvd. South location next to the Riviera to its current location in 2006. It can host 50 people inside for cocktails, and together with the Boneyard, it accommodates up to 400.

According to Erika Pope, spokeswoman for the Neon Museum, special private events were occasionally held in the Neon Boneyard prior to October. She says the new visitor center and a new canopied outdoor event area will allow the Neon Museum to host more events as well as have a proactive events sales program. PageBreak

Located about one mile east of the Strip on East Flamingo Road is the National Atomic Testing Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian that tells the story of nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site north of the city.

Meeting, conference and event facilities include a lobby and reception area, which can be combined with a 1,600-square-foot auditorium for larger dinners and receptions.

Opened in 2005, the museum’s exhibits include GZ Theater, where guests experience a simulated atmospheric bomb blast; Development of the Bomb; Atmospheric Testing; Underground Testing; and Atomic Culture.

According to Erik Wright, events coordinator at the museum, the venue can handle groups of up to 400.

“We have attractive, cost-efficient event space. We offer event planning and hosting that exceeds expectations without the hassle of the Strip,” he says.

Last year, the museum opened an exhibition entitled Area 51: Myth or Reality, the first-ever museum exhibit on the much-publicized secret military base north of Vegas that is believed to be involved in experimental aircraft and weapons systems development.

“It has generated a fantastic amount of local, national and international media and tourist interest,” Wright says. “The Area 51 exhibit has put the museum on the map as a must-see attraction.”

The 180-acre Springs Preserve, opened in 2007 three miles west of the Strip, spotlights the valley’s history through interactive science and nature exhibits, botanical gardens and hiking trails. It has seasonal events including concerts and art shows.

The preserve features two museums: the Origen Museum and the Desert Living Center. Its grounds are also home to the $51 million Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, which opened in October 2011.

Located at Interstate 95 and Valley View Blvd., it has more than 50,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space with a variety of galleries and conference rooms.

The Crossroads Commons Amphitheater spans 13,000 square feet, and the smaller Gardens Amphitheater measures 7,700 square feet and can host up to 500 people. Origen Museum features the 156-seat Big Springs Theater and a rotunda that can accommodate up to 250 for receptions.

According to Jim Johnson, spokesman at Springs Preserve, the preserve has become a new cultural hub that attracts a variety of clients, including corporate groups and associations.

“It is the perfect location for groups looking for a different Las Vegas experience,” he says. “It is designed to provide a forum for meetings, conferences and events in a location that promotes sustainable living.” PageBreak

Situated on the Strip at the Venetian, Madame Tussauds Las Vegas is in the middle of the Sin City action.

“It is a one-of-a-kind special events venue where more than 100 of the world’s hottest celebrities, athletes and legends are in attendance at your function,” says Michael Tapia, events sales manager at the venue. “We offer an excellent range of menu options to choose from, and will provide your guests with a night to remember.”

The attraction has 30,000 square feet for events divided into seven themed rooms on two floors. With a complete buyout, it can host up to 1,000 guests. Its Club Tussauds Room, for example, seats up to 60 for dinner, the Viva Vegas Room accommodates up to 40, and the Spirit of America Room hosts up to 100.

The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art is located at the Bellagio Resort & Casino.

Its newest exhibition, set to open Feb. 8 and run until Oct. 27, is Warhol Out West. Held in partnership with Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum, it will feature than more than 30 paintings, prints and sculptures. The previous exhibition, Claude Monet: Impressions of Light, showcasing 20 works by the founder of French Impressionist painting, ran until Jan. 6.

Holding up to 200 people, the 3,000 square feet of available event space consists of the gallery, atrium and reception area. It can be rented after operating hours or with an early gallery closure for an additional cost.

The Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay has more than 2,000 animals in 1.6 million gallons of water, including sawfish, giant rays, green sea turtles, piranha, jellyfish, the rare golden crocodile and 15 species of shark.

The aquarium can handle groups of up to 1,500. It also offers private guided tours and has a Dive with Sharks Program using its Shipwreck exhibit, billed as the ultimate scuba experience. The Touch Pool is a popular attraction where guests can touch an ever-changing collection of animals, including sharks, rays and horseshoe crabs.

In 2003, the Shark Reef Aquarium became Nevada’s first animal care facility to be accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.


Tony Bartlett has been writing about the travel trade industry for more than 25 years.


A generic silhouette of a person.
About the author
Tony Bartlett