Facebooks, Whopper Bars and Ferris Wheels


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A rendering of the proposed amusement park across from Mandalay Bay. The plan calls for up seven amusement rides, including a 500-foot “sky wheel.”

What does facebook, Burger King, Walgreens and a Ferris  wheel have in common? They are signs of the times.  As anyone knows who has read any of my posts, I am intrigued by change, change in society, change in business and change in politics; the nature of change and its products.  Shifts in the environment are caused by some force(s) and that force is interesting and important for us to understand if we are to be prepared for our own future; but equally interesting are subsequent changes that result for the initial ones.

Today, the prime minister of Egypt, Ahmed Shafiq, resigned – he had been appointed in the last days of Mubark’s presidency as part of an attempt to placate the demonstrators.  The resignation was one of the those events that reflect subsequent change; the army made the announcement of the resignation, the announcement was first made – on Facebook.  Two months ago, Facebook had no real presence in Egyptian public life and yet today it is the media of choice of the government.  That is another of those unpredictable black swan events, who could have predicted such an event a year ago – or better five years ago?  Of course, the answer is no one; what implications does it have for the future uses of social media in politics and government?  Might we end up with at least one wiki-government; where not only all public announcements appear online first, but where the decisions are derived from a consensus of an online community?  After the events in Egypt, we already know that many of the upcoming electoral campaigns in the world will be conducted with social  media playing a major role.  It will be bigger than just fund raising, or building a base as Obama did – social media is certain to become the town hall of the those campaigns – politicians are not going to be able to get away with talking at voters, they are going to be forced to into talking with them. Is it just possible people using social media to organize a gathering in Cairo were in vanguard of changes not just in Egypt, but in every country in the world?

There were a couple of other stories in the news today that made me think about change, maybe not as important on the grand scale of things, but interesting never-the-less.  It is no secret that we are in a period of economic downturn.  Many states, cities, industries and individual businesses have been forced to rethink their strategies.  The downturn is at the heart of the public employee union debate in Wisconsin, that debate is not limited to one state or one governor – most governments in the country have no choice, but to restructure expenses and rethink social services.  The pressure to make major changes in the way governments function is going to remain as long as the revenues – taxes – remain at historically low levels.  One of the reasons for reductions in taxes comes not from retail sales, personnel or corporate incomes, but from property taxes.  Land is simply not worth as much as it was four years ago and therefore landowners are paying lower property taxes. The lower real estate value affects more than taxes, it also affects potential land usages.

No where is the loss of property value quite as obvious as it is on the Las Vegas Strip.  On the Strip, we are seeing some major changes in land use and business strategies resulting from the economic downturn.  For the  last twenty years, Las Vegas has been the fastest growing city in the country, or close; at the same time thousands of people moved to Las Vegas every week, construction in Las Vegas outpaced construction anywhere – for three reasons.  There was always a new mega-project under construction on the Strip (at least one), there were always one or two major retail centers around the valley under construction and building houses for all of those new residents kept the construction industry working at its capacity.  Now of course, Las Vegas leads the nation in foreclosures, unoccupied retail space and abandoned casino projects. Today no casinos, retail centers are houses are being built in the valley.

Not only are the landowners paying less taxes, they are now getting very creative looking for clients.  The county commission approved an amusement park on land across from Mandalay Bay yesterday – that land would have been worth at least a hundred million dollars four years ago – and no one would have suggested a  project for it that cost less than a billion dollars – now it is slated for a Ferris wheel and 7-thrill rides; quite a come down.

Next, a little way down the Strip, Caesars is objecting to a new sign that it says will annoy its guests.  Now, a new sign in the Las Vegas of 2007 and before was pretty common – they cost millions of dollars and lit up the night sky like bombs bursting in the air; no one complained about the size, or the nature of the display of any of them – although it is unlikely any of  the major signs on the Strip would have received zoning approval in any other city in the country.  The sign in question, however, is not a casino sign – it is a Walgreen’s sign – one Caesars says threatens to dominate the skyline; talk about a come down – the mighty Caesar quaking before a 21st century snake oil salesman.

And one more minor example of the continuation of revaluing, reevaluating and changing strategies to fit a new economic environment. The Rio – owner by Caesars Entertainment, formerly Harrah’s Entertainment and the parent company complaining about the sign over a drugstore – is opening a new bar.  Hip new bars, nightclubs and swimming pools have been as much a part of the Las Vegas landscape as new billion dollar casinos – and like everything else in Las Vegas they always cost many, many times what the same thing would cost in any other city.  So, take a guess on the name of the new bar at the Rio – any ideas?  Try Whopper Bar – strange name? Not really, it is a hamburger bar, a Burger King hamburger bar, serving the whopper – now that is a whopper of switch in direction for a casino that was once, long ago, the hippest casino in town.    In their own way a Whopper Bar and a Ferris wheel are just as startling as a prime minister resigning on facebook – they are each signs of a new time.

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