Monthly Archives: September 2015

Cosmo fire similar to Monte Carlo

Two months after the fire at the Cosmopolitan Hotel’s pool deck, county officials are waiting for lab results that will shape the discussion about possible changes to building codes governing exterior decorations in commercial buildings.

The investigation of the Cosmopolitan fire was completed in August. And while fire and building officials can identify where the fire started, they were not able to identify the cause.

Samples of the various components of the palm trees, including the plastic fronds, expanded polyurethane foam plastic, and the hard polyethylene simulated bark, have been shipped to a laboratory for analysis. Once the test results have been reviewed, the Clark County Department of Building & Fire Prevention will decide whether it is necessary to add an addendum to the Clark County Building Code to include how and if plastic decorative plants and turf can be used in a commercial outside setting. And, it will be up to the cities of Las Vegas, Henderson, and North Las Vegas to follow suit if they feel there is a need to incorporate new language into their building codes.

The July 25 fire at the 14th floor Bamboo Pool brought back memories of the 2008 fire of the exterior facade of the 32-story Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino.

Although the causes of the Monte Carlo and the Cosmopolitan fires are different, the end result was the same — a dramatic life threatening fire.

According to Douglas Evans, fire protection engineer and former Clark County Building Department employee, “In both cases, improperly encapsulated foam plastics appear to be (at least one of) the primary problems.”

Both fires involved highly flammable foam plastic.

The decorative band along the top of the 32nd floor of the Monte Carlo was encapsulated with a hard coat polyethylene that was found to be the primary contributor to the fire. Likewise, the synthetic palm trees at the Cosmopolitan had an exterior polyethylene hard plastic coating (to look like the bark of the tree), covering the steel skeleton and polyurethane foam plastic.

The 32-story Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino was constructed in 1994 and 1995 using the 1991 edition of the Uniform Building Code. The entire exterior of the hotel was clad in a foam plastic Exterior Insulation Finishing System (EIFS). The use of EIFS is a fairly common ‘cladding system’ that has been used for years as an insulating barrier, as well as decorative facade features to create some of the famous Las Vegas Strip fantasy world illusion. One of the more prominent and extensive uses is the Excalibur Hotel and Casino.

The Monte Carlo fire was sparked by a welder that was constructing a catwalk on the roof parapet wall — a 30-foot high screen wall clad with foam plastic EIFS. The welder failed to use the proper asbestos matting and shielding to prevent the sparks and hot metal particles from landing on the unprotected surfaces, in this case, the upper horizontal foam plastic decorative band.

In the follow-up investigation, it was found that the hard polyethylene material that encapsulated expanded polyurethane foam plastic was not to code. The code also called for the entire EIFS to be no more than four inches thick. However, some of the decorative pop-outs consisted of expanded polyurethane foam plastic that were as much as three feet in thickness. It was a combination of the inappropriate coating and extreme thickness of EIFS material that exacerbated the problem in the Monte Carlo fire.

Evans, who is a member of the International Code Council and a fire protection engineer, stresses that when installed according to code, EIFS cladding is extremely safe. “The problem is that during construction, the product is delivered to the site and immediately installed on the building, making it impossible to inspect after the fact.” Evans advocates for the implementation of third party inspections at the EIFS manufacturing facility before it is sent to the site and has given several presentations on the subject.

According to Evans, plastics burn differently than “conventional materials”, such as wood or cotton:

• Flame spread was more rapid, and the likelihood of flashover was increased;

• Plastic products produced more BTUs per pound than conventional materials;

• Greater amounts of dense smoke were produced;

• Toxic or flammable gasses were released more quickly;

• Polystyrenes tended to melt or drip and contribute to spread of fire;

• Certain types of polyurethanes could self-ignite if improperly formulated or applied.

In the case of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, the exterior cladding is steel and glass. However, the fake palm trees used as decorations at the Bamboo Pool area were made of the same expanded polyurethane foam plastic and coated with a plastic encapsulant that was made to look like the bark of the tree.

Because these fake palm trees were being used as exterior decorations, they fell outside the architectural and interior design codes and were not required to be permitted or inspected before installation.

Ron Lynn, director of the county’s Department of Building and Fire Prevention, told reporters that current codes govern physical structures such as pool decks and cabanas, but plants and outdoor furnishings are not covered.

Foam plastic palm trees constructed similarly to the trees used at the Cosmopolitan but passing rigorous fire testing are also being used inside McCarran Airport’s Satellite D terminal.

One interesting fact is that a large portion of the pool deck of the Cosmopolitan is also covered with artificial turf, another decorative item that is not regulated. However, the glass walls surrounding the Bamboo Pool as well as the glass in the building was reflecting and intensifying the sun’s rays and melting the polyethylene grass fibers. Fortunately for the hotel and guests, in January of 2013, the Cosmopolitan had replaced 5,000 square feet of the pool area’s old synthetic turf with a product called SYNRye 211, manufactured by SYNLawn. The SYNRye 211 is made of 100 percent nylon fibers and holds both ASTM E648 and Class A fire ratings. Had the former polyethylene artificial turf product still been in place, it is possible that the entire ground cover could have caught fire.

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Vegas firm launches healthy living app

Calendars, address books, to-do lists, and favorite recipes are all available with the slide of a finger on a smartphone’s touchscreen. And, as of today, there is an app that may just save your life, or at least extend it by creating a healthier lifestyle.

The Las Vegas-based mPact Corp. is introducing AIME, which stands for Artificially Intelligent Metabolic Expert the world’s first virtual health advisor. AIME is like Apple’s Siri but designed specifically for the healthcare industry. It’s the product of a virtual design team with members on the east and west coast of the U.S. and in the UK.

In the U.S., over $60 billion is spent annually on weight loss and fitness programs, yet 73 percent of the population is still classified as clinically overweight. “The 100-year-old idea of calories burned versus calories eaten, one diet fits all approach does not work,” said Darin MacDonald, CEO of mPact. “What we have developed is a science-based approach based on your personal body composition and continuous data input.”

Once your basic information (resting heart rate, height, weight, gender, percentage of body fat, etc.), is uploaded, AMIE will process the data into what is called a metabolic profile and then develop a personalized diet and exercise plan to help you achieve your desired weight and fitness goal. The program uses information gathered through health exams, heart rate monitors, and other data input, to constantly learn how your body reacts to exercise and calorie intake. Based upon your progress, AMIE will make changes to your personal fitness program to keep you moving forward toward your goal.

Prior to the Sept. 14 market release, mPact underwent two years of controlled beta testing through diverse study groups including medical practices, wellness programs, fitness facilities, and nutrition practitioners, and has documented successful results for over 1,000 users.

The mPact program’s users enjoy a variety of innovative features including:

• Daily meal plans customized to each user’s personal nutrition formula and preferences. Endless choices specifically geared to each user’s unique likes, dislikes, and preferences;

• More than 400 recipes, including innovative, customizable Smart Recipes that offer super-fast and easy options for meals in minutes;

• Grocery lists to print or take on the go via smartphone;

• Daily Impact Reports showing positive metabolic and overall health outcomes resulting from program compliance with suggestions for further improvement;

• Workout programs with video instruction show users how to maximize results in just 90 minutes a week;

• Interactive digital workout log shows previous workout results – and records new results;

• Graphical dashboards that show progress toward health goals.

The meal selections are not restricted to cooking at home. The program also contains the menus of over 800 restaurant chains across the country, and AMIE is able to make menu suggestions that fall within your metabolic score. The program also has a database of more than 600,000 individual food items.

With the official product launch of Sept. 14, the company is using the results of the paid beta launch with more than 1,000 paying users to market the product to future user companies.

This app will not be available for download through Apple’s iTunes or the Android Play Store. Instead, the product is being licensed to insurance companies, medical groups, and corporate wellness programs. The licensing cost is based on the number of participants enrolled in the program and range from $100,000 to $500,000 per year.

None has been sold yet.

However, the company is working on the development of an “athlete’s” app that will be downloaded like any other smartphone app; with a projected release date sometime in the third-quarter of 2016.

The global headquarters for mPact is located here in Las Vegas. “We moved here because Nevada is much more business friendly than California,” said MacDonald. “Not only are the taxes lower, the people are very friendly. Within the first six months of arriving in Las Vegas, we had more business contacts than we had after five years in California.”

MacDonald, the visionary behind mPact, is not only a software engineer but has enjoyed tremendous personal success as a collegiate athlete and competitive bodybuilder, winning the 2002 America’s Natural Body Building Championship. He is a certified sports nutrition advisor and expert on body chemistry, sports nutrition and supplementation. MacDonald and his wife have devoted more than ten years in research, analysis, and technical design to bring mPact to the market.

The MacDonald’s bootstrapped the company’s initial costs and have recently been able to raise private investor money through contacts they have made. More information on the company and AMIE can be found at

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Obama promotes solar in Vegas visit

Call it a “tree-hugger” convention or a political rally, but the National Clean Energy Summit 8.0, held Aug. 24 at Mandalay Bay, was clearly a vehicle used to keep the solar bandwagon moving across the country.

Or should I say, in the case of Nevada, to start the bandwagon moving again.

The elephant in the room was the recent Nevada net metering cap that had been reached three days before the start of the conference, throwing Nevada’s over 6,000 solar workers into panic mode.

President Barack Obama, feeling refreshed from his recent vacation, was greeted with a standing ovation and enthusiastic applause when he took the stage to deliver the closing address.

Not wasting any time, one of his initial comments was clearly directed toward NV Energy.

“It’s one thing if you’re consistent in being free market,” Obama said. “It’s another thing if you’re free market until it’s solar that’s working, and people want to buy it, and suddenly you’re not for it anymore. That’s a problem.”

The president announced that his administration will seek to expand access to a loan program that allows homeowners to get up-front financing for clean-energy or energy-efficient home upgrades, and then pay it off over many years as part of their property taxes.

“We’re going to make it even easier for individual homeowners to put solar panels on the roof with no up-front cost,” Obama said.

During his 30-minute speech, Obama remarked that “distributed” generation is sweeping the country as more and more homes install solar panels and, more recently, contemplate backing them up with home batteries. “The real revolution going on here is that people are beginning to realize that they can take more control over their own energy,” he said.

Obama also took advantage of this occasion to focus attention on his administration’s flagship climate change solution, the EPA’s recently completed Clean Power Plan, which depends upon the strong growth of clean energy.

The plan requires states to cut emissions through a mix of options that include greatly increasing the amount of electricity they get from wind, solar and other renewable sources.

However, 15 states, including West Virginia and Wyoming, have filed suit seeking an “emergency stay” of the rule, which they call “clearly unlawful.”

Sen. Harry Reid, the summit’s organizer and host for the past eight years, took several opportunities during the event to bemoan that Nevada is the first state to reach the limit on net metering, commenting on both the state of the current utility grid and efforts by utilities across the country to abandon or revise net metering regulations.

“Our electric grid has barely changed in a century, but that is quickly coming to an end. American demand for clean, reliable power choices is forcing change that is accelerating,” said Reid. “It is clear that distributed energy, energy storage, other sources of electricity and efficiency, are competing with utility-scale power plants as they should, and indeed the facts cannot be ignored. U.S. solar has increased 418 percent since 2010, and more than half of this increase comes in the form of solar panels on homes and businesses. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have authorized net metering, and nearly 60 percent of our utilities across the country are currently reviewing their net metering policies.”

A debate on the “Future of Rooftop Solar” — featuring Charles Cicchetti of Pacific Economic Group representing the rooftop solar contingent, and Lisa Wood of Edison Foundation speaking for the public utilities — captured the attention of attendees when they took opposing positions. Rose McKinney-James, managing principal of Energy Works Consulting and McKinney-James & Associates, moderated the debate with questions that were crafted to bridge the opinion gap. Despite her efforts to reach some common ground, the debate ended in a stand-off, reminiscent of the real world debates that are taking place in Congress.

Save our Solar signs and T-shirts could be seen throughout the Summit audience.

Save our Solar signs and T-shirts could be seen throughout the Summit audience.

Despite the rather negative vibe and the silent protest of T-shirts and signs reading “Save Our Solar,” NV Energy’s CEO Paul Caudill was on the agenda to introduce a panel discussion of “Energy in the Information Age.” Caudill received moderate applause during his short introduction when he spoke about the various statewide geothermal and solar projects in place and the partnership with First Solar to develop the new 100-megawatt grid-tied Switch Station that will be constructed and operated at costs that are being recognized industrywide as among the lowest seen in the United States.

Whether it was a result of the conference, pressure from politicians and the people, or simply the logical decision to be made at the moment, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission made a ruling three days after the summit, to extend the current net metering program until an alternative recommendation can be made at the end of 2015.

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UFC economic reach helps small business

The Ultimate Fighting Championship, owned by Las Vegas casino moguls Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, is big business — very big. In fact, in 2008 Forbes magazine called it the “Ultimate Cash Machine.” And, with its corporate headquarters located in Las Vegas, the trickle-down effect is also boosting the bottom line of some local businesses.

Ken Spencer poses for a photo at Larger Than Life, Inc. in Las Vegas on Wednesday, July 29, 2015. (Joshua Dahl/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Ken Spencer poses for a photo at Larger Than Life, Inc. in Las Vegas on Wednesday, July 29, 2015. (Joshua Dahl/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

One such benefactor of the UFC cash machine is Larger Than Life Inc., owned by Ken Spencer. In 2001, shortly after the Fertittas bought the UFC franchise, Spencer received a random phone call based on his Yellow Page advertisement. The Fertittas were looking for a local company that could paint corporate sponsorship logos onto the large wrestling mats. Even though Spencer and his staff had never done that type of work before, when the UFC brought a mat over to the Larger Than Life studio, Spencer didn’t hesitate to say,”We can definitely do better work than what I am looking at right now.”

Until that time, Larger Than Life had specialized in painting murals on the interior and exterior of buildings. One of their first projects was the painting of large retriever type dogs on the side of Big Dog Cafe. Over the years, the firm has painted murals for New York-New York, Planet Hollywood, and the interior of the All Star Cafe. It also has completed hundreds of murals in schools for the Clark County School District.

Spencer got his start in the business in 1986 as a billboard sign painter and remembers, “I doodled on notebooks a lot in high school, but I wouldn’t call it art. In college, I took a couple of art classes but majored in marketing and, at the time, this was not a career that I was even thinking about or considered getting into.”

A Las Vegas High School art teacher who knew Spencer came into a store where he was working. Unhappy with his job, Spencer asked the teacher if he knew of anybody that was hiring. “He told me to talk to the art director at Donrey Outdoor Advertising and to tell the guy that that I had experience. In actuality, I didn’t but I really wanted a different job, and I picked it up pretty quickly, so it all worked out.”

Although to some Spencer’s career may seem serendipitous, he has been able to capitalize on his talent for both business and art by taking chances. It was based upon Spencer’s word that he could paint cleaner and sharper logos that the UFC gave him the opportunity to produce its next mat.

“At that time, it was a big challenge because we had not done that type of work before on the floor… it is different from painting on a wall. That first mat was a very slow process. It took us five full days to complete that one mat and all of the techniques we used at that time were pretty old fashioned, painstakingly slow, and a laborious process. Over time, we have improved the process to make it much faster, and the logos are sharper and brighter.”

Today, he said, it takes about a 1½ days to finish each mat.

Larger Than Life receives blank canvases along with the logo design that contains a large center logo and eight smaller logos outside of a painted octagon stripe. The canvases are either 30- or 20-foot octagons in shape, made from a very heavy material with rings sewn around the edges that allow the material to be tightly stretched. Once received, the Larger Than Life staff stretches the canvas on the floor of the shop to achieve a tight and solid surface upon which to work. The logos and octagon stripes are painted onto the canvas with acrylic paint that can shrink and stretch without cracking or peeling.

Once a canvas is completed with the logo design, it is sent back to the UFC for shipment to one of the many worldwide events. Although the canvas and painted logos are durable, a plus for Larger Than Life is that each mat is used only once due to the unique combinations of sponsors and locations that change for each fight.

Repeat business is assured based on the quality of the work.

“Larger Than Life provides full-color logos and graphics for octagon canvases featured at all UFC events. Since our relationship began over five years ago, canvas production has expanded to our international operations and has increased from 12 per year to over 100. As a Las Vegas-based company, UFC has a history of supporting local businesses. We look forward to continuing our work with local companies as often as possible, ” UFC Chief Financial Officer John Mulkey said.

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On to Mandalay Bay

What is next for the Las Vegas Monorail?

When it comes to transportation options along the Strip, perhaps the most visible yet misunderstood is the Las Vegas Monorail.

Yes, the Las Vegas Monorail Co., a privately held 501(c) 4 not-for-profit company, went into voluntary bankruptcy during the recession when it couldn’t pay the interest on more than $400 million in capital debt.

But today the 4-mile line hauls more than 15,000 tourists a day, turns an operating profit and it has an appetite for expansion.

On Nov. 7, 2012, the company emerged from Chapter 11 under a reorganization plan that canceled the prior debt. In exchange, the bondholder received two series of current interest bonds, Series A totaling $10 million due in 2019, and Series B totaling $3 million due in 2055. Today, the company earns enough money from ticket sales and advertising to completely pay for all of the operations, debt obligations, and maintenance of the entire system.

The success of the system has brought quite a lot of interest from various people, places, organizations, and groups who want to see the monorail expand. Perhaps the most asked question is about the extension of the monorail to McCarran International Airport.

About 70 percent of the people that arrive at the airport are going to the Strip. The only option from McCarran to the Strip is surface transportation, which is a major livelihood for the cab, limo and shuttle drivers. However, at peak times, there are delays.

“From a bigger picture standpoint, we need to look at all of the options on the table and what is best for the community,” said said Ingrid Reisman, vice president, and chief marketing officer for the monorail. “We (the monorail) are so close to McCarran, yet so far away with a station at the MGM Grand … I don’t think that there is just one solution that will solve that particular traffic movement. I believe that there should be multiple solutions and that the monorail should be one of them.”

Other ideas have included the expansion of the monorail north to Fremont Street, and most recently to UNLV.

“Could that be something in the future? It could be, but we need to look at our most critical transportation needs and prioritize them,” said Reisman. “Right now, as a not-for- profit company, those two expansions are not something that we could fund and expect for it to pay for itself, but they might be viable extensions in the future.”

Recently, the monorail company joined the Regional Transportation Commission in a study to look at the resort corridor and identify transportation shortcomings. The result of that study is the Transportation Investment Business Plan and one of the recommendations is to extend the monorail service to the Mandalay Bay.

“Obviously we agree with that, it makes sense as the primary expansion of an existing 4-mile system to the newly expanded Mandalay Bay convention facility. It would give Las Vegas a huge competitive advantage in the convention market,” Reisman said.

Sketch level plans for an extension from MGM to Mandalay Bay are already being developed by the monorail’s planning team with an alignment and ridership study included. Initial estimates are that $100 million would be needed to construct the 1-mile of track, the station, and electronic infrastructure. A good portion of that money is projected to be in the form of debt, but the actual financial plan has yet to be determined.

Also, the Transportation Investment Business Plan is recommending that the monorail add a stop at the Sands Expo and Convention Center so that all three major convention facilities would be connected.

The monorail is on track to carry 4.7 million people in 2015. This system is unique compared to other similar transportation systems in the country, in that it does not have regular commuters. The entire customer base changes approximately every three days. Because of its popularity with the tourists, the system also reduces the number of vehicle miles traveled in the resort corridor by 2 million, along with a reduction of the accompanying exhaust emissions (carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and nitrous oxide), emitted into the air by 26 tons annually.

The monorail configuration is four cars per train with an average of five to eight trains running during the hours of 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. On Saturdays, service is extended to 3 a.m.

During busy convention periods, the trains can be expanded to eight cars if needed, but the company has found it to be more convenient for the riders to increase the number of trains on the track, which shortens wait times at the stations. The average wait time at each station is four to seven minutes; the entire trip from the SLS Station at Sahara Avenue to the MGM Grand is approximately 15 minutes.

It is interesting to note that while the monorail only serves the east side of the Strip, according to customer surveys, 40 to 45 percent of the customers stay in hotels on the west side of the Strip. Those surveys also rank “customer satisfaction” highest for convenience, cleanliness and safety.

The maintenance teams regularly service the trains to make sure they are in smooth operating order. Malfunctioning parts are diagnosed at the facility or sent back to the manufacturer for replacement. Photo by Craig A. Ruark

The maintenance teams regularly service the trains to make sure they are in smooth operating order. Malfunctioning parts are diagnosed at the facility or sent back to the manufacturer for replacement. Photo by Craig A. Ruark

And safety is important to all involved. There are 96 cameras throughout the stations, capturing all areas of the system. Each train has eight cameras to cover all areas of each train car. Also, each car has an ‘e-tel’ button so passengers can communicate directly with the central control room at any time if needed.

Should a train develop a mechanical problem, there are more than 400 sensors and switches on every station platform level monitoring the health of all systems at all times. While there is a place for a driver to sit, each train is unmanned and operated remotely by a “wayside control unit” in the main computer server room. There are also additional control units throughout the system, which regulate and track the position of every train at all times and regulate the spacing of trains.

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