Seemingly built for the specific purpose of avoiding attention, the 24 non-descript warehouses of Yokohama’s Yamashita Wharf are a far cry from the revolutionary resorts that lawmakers envisioned when they enacted Japan’s IR legislation just a few short years ago.
Those warehouses are safe for now after Yokohama’s new mayor last week officially cancelled the IR bid, but it could have been very different.
Speaking with Inside Asian Gaming in the wake of that news, Melco Resorts & Entertainment EVP, Chief Creative and Brand Officer, Frederic Winckler, explained how Melco’s IR concept was designed to put Yokohama on the global map: creating an iconic waterfront landmark that would rejuvenate the city’s offerings while providing a new gateway into Japan.
“The Yokohama waterfront is not set up for the public so the first thing we wanted to do with our design was to give the waterfront back to the public and create a space and atmosphere that people would enjoy exploring,” Winckler said.
“It was done in a way that respected the local culture but also to become a landmark. All the attractions we designed inside were landmarks too with shows, a museum curated in partnership with Europe’s most iconic museum, a waterpark created with an artist, a sports ground designed with Naomi Osaka, adventure parks, cinemas, an arena – all done to Melco premium quality level. All of our hotels would have been Forbes rated and we would have brought Michelin dining back to Yokohama.
“It would have provided a level and scale of hospitality that is not present in the city today.”
Utilizing the combined skills of a local Japanese architect with the global architectural expertise – Melco’s “City of the Future” Yokohama IR design pays tribute to water and nature.
The tallest central tower is inspired by the flowers of Yokohama, which is surrounded by a series of curved buildings representing waves and around them some smaller structures to represent ripples in the water.
At ground level, the site would have extended green areas from the adjacent Yamashita Park to cover the full length of the pier, significantly increasing the amount of public space and integrating directly with the city. To maintain a sense of openness, a large avenue was planned to run diagonally through the center of the IR providing a direct line of sight to two existing Yokohama landmarks – Yokohama Bay Bridge in one direction and Yokohama Marine Tower in the other.
One of the key features of Melco’s IR was to be the Welcome Hub, located at the entrance to the IR and envisioned as a new gateway to Japan for tourists.
“A lot of emphasis in the IR bid was for the IR to become a center of tourism into Japan,” said Winckler. The Welcome Hub was to have a lot of interactive rides and activities, food, dedicated with information about Japan and its regions. It would tell people what to do and where to do it, and travel agents would have been based there to make it all happen.”
The substantial MICE facility, another key component of Japan’s IR ambition, was designed to meet international expectations – “a level of MICE that does not exist in Japan,” as Winckler explains it – with the ability to convert to a large arena for concerts or sports events to allow for seasonality.
The facility was also to be environmentally focused with the roof comprising solar paneling, greenery on all sides and the world’s largest vertical garden at 500 meters long and 40 meters high. Use of this garden was to be handed over to local farmers and the herbs and vegetables it produced used by the IRs restaurants.
A retail space, already agreed upon by global luxury brands, is described by Winckler as being “similar to building a second Ginza [in Tokyo] – something Yokohama doesn’t have.
“We sought to bring a level of hospitality and tourism that would bring people to Yokohama, allow them to spend some time in the city and then continue on to see the country,” he said.
Melco’s President, Evan Winkler, said the company “has always believed that Yokohama would benefit from a superlative, world-class IR proposal that would reflect the city’s lifestyle, culture and characteristics for the world to see. Our dedication to design excellence, quality and craftmanship and our focus on combining art, design and architecture into our integrated resort proposal reflected Japan’s rich heritage, humanities and aesthetic.
“With an eye to the future, this project would have created a new Yokohama, one that could be seen as the world’s top destination for entertainment, leisure, sports and MICE events for years to come.”
An IR is no longer on Yokohama’s immediate radar, but Melco hasn’t given up on Japan just yet.
“While we are disappointed about the outcome in Yokohama, we continue to believe in the long-term prospect of Japan as a gaming market and will continue to consider bringing the world’s best integrated resort to the country,” he said.
“Melco has a track record of operating premium integrated resorts that deliver high-quality and diversified entertainment experiences and create meaningful transformation to the host cities. We believe the premium mass integrated resort model we pioneered will be considered by governments who are looking to drive economic growth through leisure and business tourism.”