"We've got to get 2,000 little people in there this afternoon," design manager Pat DeMaria said as he surveyed the team of landscapers and engineers who were digging holes for tiny cacti and preparing to fill empty pools with water.
After years of complaints about the Disneyfication of Las Vegas, the famed Strip is getting the theme park treatment from DeMaria's designers. The new, 2-million-brick model recreates a handful of landmarks in intricate detail, from the bas-relief carvings on the campanile of the Venetian to the chic Tangerine bar set into the facade of the newly remodeled Treasure Island hotel.
The scale starts at 20-to-1 at the base, so the brick people don't seem dwarfed, and shrinks to 60-to-1 at the top, designers said.
About the only thing missing is any hint of gambling. Fiber-optic light boards advertise the Mirage dolphins and fake cabaret shows - in some cases headlined by the Lego designers' alter egos - but the constant jangle of slots and video poker machines is absent from the set.
Instead, there is a water-spitting Lego elephant, a two-track Lego monorail and automated Lego limousines that disappear into hotel-registration carports and then reappear on the other side. Kids can punch a button to see a parade of newlyweds come out of the Strip's infamous Little White Wedding Chapel - some in white gowns and tuxes, others in less formal nuptial garb.
"We wanted to make it kid-friendly," said Kristi Klein, the lead designer. "So there are lots of interactive elements for them, like the exploding Mirage volcano and the Treasure Island pirate ship."
Young Lego fans, drawn by the bright colors and all the moving parts, peered over yellow barricades that blocked off the new installation until its official opening Thursday.
The Las Vegas Miniland was built by a team of 15 designers in Carlsbad and at Lego headquarters in Billund, Denmark, over three years. It is the biggest scale model in the Legoland park, located 40 miles north of downtown San Diego, though the model Chrysler Building on the shiny New York New York casino is dwarfed by the plastic version rising a few yards away in the Lego Manhattan area.
"It's plastic replicas of fake copies of these great buildings," DeMaria said. "You have to take it a little tongue in cheek."