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1. Talk about burying the lede. Nestled at the bottom of The Sunday’s most recent cover story about Tony Hsieh is this nugget:

But as the renaissance happens, Hassan “Gino” Massoumi watches from the outside.

For more than a decade, the auto repair shop owner worked across the street from what is now Zappos’ former-city-hall headquarters. Then Hsieh’s real estate partners bought the building and refused to renew Massoumi’s lease.

Now the blue-collar businessman sees the young Zappos crowd walk past his former shop, talking about new projects in which he has no role.

When I read that, I felt like I finally had on my plate something tangible after an unfulfilling, 2,500-word pastiche of drumbeat complaint, anonymous sniping and even a dose of tabloid innuendo (Is Tony Hsieh’s secret mind-control program making people commit suicide?). That detail about Massoumi suggests more about The Downtown Project’s values and motives than all the swings of the velvet hatchet that come before. It would have made an interesting story to track down all the small local businesses that had been displaced, directly or indirectly, by the molasses wave of downtown redevelopment, giving the kumbaya narrative some counterpoint zing.
 
2. However. My purpose here is neither to criticize The Sunday’s journalism, nor is it to chime in with my own cheap divination of the mindset of The Downtown Project. (Sometimes that divination takes on such extravagant, self-important gravity that I’m reminded of the inscrutable sentient planet in the novel Solaris. Which reminds me: Is The Downtown Project ... alive?)
 
3. But I will offer a cheap mind-reading of Las Vegas as it continues to warily nose and sniff at The Downtown Project. With a few notable exceptions, the complaints, the reservations, the imprecations have been aesthetic, and not even aesthetic in an interesting way. They’re variations on this theme: Hey. You’re taking away the grit, you’re bringing in hipsters and mixology and fixies and artisanal donuts. Translation: You’re ruining my competing vision of a more authentic and personally relevant consumer experience. You’re cramping my lifestyle. Well. Whether you’re eating at Joe’s Donuts or power-noshing at Spr!nkles: A Boutique Donutisserie, it’s still about buying things. Thinking about redevelopment merely along the lines of preferred transactions and products is fruitless, bankrupt and morally vacant
 
4. There’s another variation to the complaints and reservations: The Downtown Project and Zappos culture feel insular and cult-like, and ... you know, there’s just something not quite right about that. Now, this is the kernel of a promising line of thought. It has nested in it a salient proposition that no one seems to be nourishing. It goes something like this: DTP and Zappos have an ethical obligation to engage and improve the downtown community beyond the benefits that trickle down from their profit-seeking activity. (You could cast that obligation as mere “corporate responsibility,” but given DTP’s swift, jarring — and, sure, beneficial — impact, and the delicate culture and troubled history of downtown, that phrase feels chalky and faint. But developing a muscular working vocabulary about ethics in business and economic justice in Nevada is an entirely different project.)
 
5. You may believe that any given company has this kind of ethical obligation; you may not. We can have a philosophical discussion about that over drinks at your favorite dive or mixology bar. But a lot of people do believe it, and they believed that The Downtown Project believed it, as evidenced by the fostering of “community” as one of its much-touted core values. Hsieh has since peeled that "community" sticker off the DTP bumper because it implied DTP is different, that there is to it a feeling and moral dimension beyond simply following the law. “We found that when we used the word 'community,' there were a lot of groups that suddenly expected us to donate money to them or invest in them just because they lived in the community or because it was for a good cause,” he told Vegas Inc in explaining the walkback. Hsieh is carefully calibrating public expectations about DTP’s goals and intentions, but you sense he can’t quite get all the toothpaste back in the tube. It says something about the sense of optimism and energy gathering downtown that people seem to be holding on to their high expectations — if not for DTP, then for whoever comes along next advertising feelgood values as a selling point. 

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