In the retail real estate business, we tend to think of Las Vegas as the site of the ICSC marathon every May. But it's the fastest growing city in the nation and, increasingly, a place where upscale retailers and restaurateurs are looking for venues to attract free-spending tourists and sophisticated locals.

Rouse's Fashion Show Mall, which vies for tourists' dollars with Simon's Forum Shops, is a place where the glitzy Vegas and the growing metropolis meet. Fashion Show has its showbiz touches, including an 80-foot retractable runway and theatrical lighting for, well, fashion shows.

On the eve of the ICSC convention, Rouse threw a splashy party with a Roberto Cavalli fashion show to show off its $1 billion expansion, the first of two, and to light up a 480-foot-long canopy that becomes a giant projection screen at night.

About half the traffic comes from local residents. The rest is well-heeled tourists and lucky gamblers, who can come in from Las Vegas Boulevard, better known as The Strip.

I wanted to see how a real Las Vegan responds to the 1.9 million-square-foot regional giant, one of the largest centers in America. So I took along Mary Alice Nielson — business executive, wife, mother of three, boomer woman and a 20-year resident of Las Vegas. Williams is a slender, energetic woman who loves fine things, but her hectic life has to be practical. That's why, she says, she is repeatedly lured to Fashion Show.

For one thing, she says: “You can always get covered parking. And, believe me, covered parking is important in the heat of the Las Vegas day.” The parking lot is designed so that locals get in and out quickly; it's right off the freeway.

Another lure: Seven anchors. A planned eighth, Lord & Taylor, has been put on hold by the May Co. If Lord & Taylor does not open by November 2004, Rouse can market the space to other retailers. “We're not worried,” says Rouse spokesman Scott Matter. “Over 95 percent of our space is leased.”

Fashion Show's Phase I Expansion — including a new national prototype Bloomingdale's Home and the first Nordstrom in Nevada — opened in November 2002. Phase II opens this October.

Mary Alice travels the country as vice president and general manager of Hospitality Network, a unit of Cox Communications that provides video-on-demand and Internet access to hotels. Before the expansion, she did a lot of shopping in New York. Now she says she can get everything she needs at home. She pointed to Marmi Shoes, which offers the narrow sizes she requires, and children's store Along Came a Spider, as two of her favorites.

Shoppers take a short escalator ride to enter the addition, built while the existing mall remained open. A dramatic steel entryway that's also a balcony provides a gateway to the new.

Vitals

Location: Las Vegas

Size: 1.9 million sq. ft.

Opened: 1981

Phase I of expansion: November 2002

Phase II opens: October 2003

Anchors: Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Saks, Macy's, Dillard's, Bloomingdale's Home and Robinson's-May

No. of stores: 250 when complete

Parking spaces: 5,000