Friday, May 27, 2016

Downtown Las Vegas: A Comeback Story

Once there was a long-neglected area of Las Vegas riddled with urban blight. The state as a whole was one of the hardest hit by the Great Recession. The housing market more than collapsed, and Nevada led the nation in unemployment. Its most populated urban core, Downtown Las Vegas, wasted away.

By 2012, residents and tourists alike were avoiding the decrepit streets of Downtown purely out of self-preservation, but by then, some powerful players came to the rescue. Outspoken former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, city council members, state legislatures, a tech billionaire and an organized group of area business owners under the banner Downtown Las Vegas Alliance proved to be the catalysts that brought the city’s center out of despondency.

With funding from the state legislature, city council declared Downtown Las Vegas a “redevelopment area,” diverting increases in property taxes in the area back into the neighborhood in order to attract new business and development and improve existing businesses and developments. City council also enacted programs such as “Quick Start,” which reimburses businesses up to $50,000 toward the cost of rehabilitating older buildings in redevelopment areas to bring them up to current building and fire code.

"The community is just beginning to reap what it started sewing nearly a decade ago, and the neighborhood’s future looks brighter than ever."

Zappos, an online shoe and clothing shop, and its CEO Tony Hsieh relocated to the old city hall building in Downtown Las Vegas in 2013. Seeing opportunity in the down economy and wanting to provide a better living environment for his employees, Hsieh invested around $350 million of his own money into reviving his new neighborhood, investing in real estate, tech startups, education initiatives and small businesses.

These early antidotes have taken hold and as of now, seem to have cured Downtown Las Vegas. The neighborhood is seeing an influx of tourists straying from the mega-resorts of the Strip, which sit outside the city limits. This is thanks to trendy new bars, shops and restaurants. Visitors to the city’s core can do some shopping at Downtown Container Park, enjoy dinner at swanky Triple George and take in a Broadway production at the $470 million Smith Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in 2012.

Nearby 18b Arts District has also benefited from the flood of cash. New art galleries, bars and restaurants have sprung up within its boundaries as well. Along Main Street, between Stratosphere and city hall, visitors will find a local brewery, a new coffee shop, a number of secretly chic bars and a host of locally owned furniture stores, clothing shops and antique dealers. During the first Friday of every month, the homely but lovable neighborhood welcomes thousands of residents and tourists for an art festival aptly named First Friday. The festival, now owned by none other than Hsieh, boasts live music, fun activities for children and great food and drinks for adults.

The Mob Museum, Neon Museum, Third Street revitalization and Life Is Beautiful “music and learning festival” have also been major contributors. The list goes on. There have also been talks of building a modern art museum to rival Los Angeles’ and a stadium or arena to house a Major League Soccer or National Hockey League franchise in Downtown. The community is just beginning to reap what it started sewing nearly a decade ago, and the neighborhood’s future looks brighter than ever.

The double decker city buses run straight from the Strip to Fremont Street and back, so go explore! There is much to love about Downtown Las Vegas. The once neglected urban core is being transformed into the community’s living room, and we’d love to share it with you.

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