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If you’ve been here for more than a decade, you know downtown Las Vegas has changed … a lot.
What was once a depressed and dangerous area is now a popular place to live and work.
The transformation started with former Mayor Oscar Goodman, and it continued under the Downtown Project, financed by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.
But the work isn’t done.
The City of Las Vegas has a downtown vision plan they hope to complete by 2045; Downtown Project has a lot of developments in the work; and the business community is more active than ever.
The City of Las Vegas’ plan is called Vision 2045.
Scott Adams is the city manager. He said the plan is the most comprehensive the city has done, and it included input from business owners, residents and developers.
He said the two main elements of the plan that the city is now focused on is housing and open space.
However, developing open space in a downtown core can be tough because the city must acquire buildings and take them down to make room for parks.
Adams said the healing garden created after the Oct. 1 shooting has become that much needed green space.
“The Healing Garden came along at the right place at the right time,” he said. “That represents the kind of thinking about park space. A little bit of relief, a little bit of green, some trees. In that case, it rallied around the tragedy that occurred on October 1 but now it’s become a very strong open space in that part of downtown.”
Besides open space and housing, another phase of the overall downtown vision has been dubbed Project Enchilada.
Adams says the project is looking at the entire Fremont Street corridor. He said it started with the Fremont Street Experience. It moved on to the East Fremont entertainment district and now the city is moving into another phase from 8th Street to the five corners, where Fremont Street intersects with Charleston Boulevard and Eastern Avenue.
He said the biggest part of improving the corridor will be adding a significant amount of tree canopy. He said historic photographs show the area had tree-lined streets but those trees are gone.
While trees seem like a small element, they go to one of the biggest complaints about the area: walkability.
Adams also envisions historic buildings be restored, empty buildings being reoccupied, and the use of historic signage to bring the area back to life.
The city is only one of the forces behind change in the downtown core. Downtown Project is working to fix one of the biggest complaints about the area: a lack of housing.
John Curran is the real estate portfolio manager for Downtown Project. He said the mid-rise apartment complex currently under development at 9th and Fremont streets will bring 300 new people to the area.
“We believe it is going to open by the end of summer and we believe it is going to lease up quickly and become a real game changer,” he said.
Curran said they’re also working on motel renovations including the Ferguson Motel project, which he said will include a whole city block.
The project includes space for local retail along with food and beverage. He says it will have a U-shaped courtyard that will have space for retail opportunities.
Curran admitted that the Downtown Project should have focused more on residential construction, instead of some of amenities that brought people to the area first. Housing is a chicken-or-the-egg scenario, he said. Without amenities, people won’t want to live somewhere but without people, amenities like grocery stores won’t build.
The lack of a good-sized grocery store is still one of the biggest complaints from residents in downtown.
James Reza owns a business and lives downtown. He said people living just outside the core drive out to the suburbs for services.
“You have a lot of entrenched, traditional neighborhoods — if you want to call them that — that are just a hop and skip away from downtown, and those people could come into downtown and spend their money there, but they don’t.”
Michael Vannozzi is executive director of the Downtown Alliance. He agreed that getting a grocery and other services depends on having more people living in the area, not just visiting.
“If we want something like a grocery store, let’s bring more people to the area,” he said. “Let’s have long-term residents in the area and then that will happen.”
Adams said it can be difficult to know exactly how many rooftops a large grocery store chain would need to set up shop because they also factor in household income, but he believes it could be 5,000 units.
Vannozzi’s group is now working on setting up a Business Development District for the downtown core. Businesses in the district would be assessed a fee but the money would be used to pay for marketing of the area, street improvements, safety and helping with the homeless problems.
Homelessness is a big issue downtown that still needs to be addressed, everyone agreed, but that is not all. Parking, mass transit, connectivity between downtown sections, and blight are all issues that seem to still plague the area.
Scott Adams, city manager, City of Las Vegas; John Curran, real estate portfolio manager, Downtown Project; Michael Vannozzi, executive director, Downtown Alliance; James Reza, journalist and downtown business owner
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