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Does Downtown LV's Savior Need A Savior?

Fremont East

Fremont East Entertainment District has been home to dozens of new bars and restaurants over the past few years, but now as some of those properties start to falter questions arise about the direction of efforts to redevelop downtown.

The Bunkhouse Saloon, a watering hole and music venue that opened nearly 60 years ago, closed this week.

Another Downtown Project business, clothing store Coterie has closed.

Then there’s Shift, Downtown Project’s multi-modal transportation project that spent years in development but went under before it even started.

Insert Coins barcade closed last week. Bar+Bistro in the Arts District downtown has closed.

Other bars and venues downtown are faltering.

All of which has people wondering: Has downtown redevelopment gone as far as it can? Is it going backwards? Or can something be done?

Dan Palmeri is a commercial real estate broker for Cushman and Wakefield. He told KNPR's State of Nevada that he didn't see the changes as a sign that the whole downtown redevelopment effort is failing. 

“I think what we’re seeing is the natural progression of any type of new urban development,” Palmeri said.

He believes one of the biggest problems is the lack of less expensive housing, especially for younger people who can't afford the rent at high-end condo complexes. 

He said there are more dining options, "but you don’t have the residences, the people, to support the amount of businesses.”

Business reporter and KNPR's State of Nevada producer Chris Sieroty agrees that more rooftops are needed to support the current businesses and drive more businesses to open.

Sieroty said it is time for the city of Las Vegas to step in to help developers.

“I think the city needs to look at teaming up with developers and helping shoulder some of that risk in the beginning, realizing that down the road you will win,” he said.

Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin took issue with Sieroty's assessment of the city's effort. He said the city has several programs to encourage development. 

“It’s good to hear so many people talk about so much about which they know so little,” Coffin quipped.

Coffin also applauded the Downtown Project's Tony Hsieh for his efforts to improve the area. 

“There is a remarkable investment here and remarkable risk undertaken by a guy with a bunch of money,” the councilman said.

He does concede that the city abandoned the area during the 80s, but he believes political and business leaders are now buying into improving it.

“The reputation of downtown reflects on the whole city,” Coffin said. 

Della Rucker is the managing editor of Engaging Cities magazine, which focuses on city redevelopment efforts. She has been studying downtown Las Vegas for an upcoming book.

She agrees that redeveloping downtown "isn’t about one person with a pot of money.” She said Detroit is an example of a city where one person has pushed development and eventually other investors have started to believe in the efforts and added their own funding.

Rucker thinks people should take a much longer view of improvement efforts.

"Revitalizing an area that slid for 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, you don’t fix that," Rucker said. "You don’t magically make everything wonderful and perfect, no matter what you do, in a two year period or a three year period or four year period.”

She does admire the speed at which changes have already happened in the city's urban core. She thinks is speaks to the optimism in the city and direction it is going.

“This is really a city, from what I can see, that is really starting to come into and own its history," Rucker observed. "And to own its sense of ‘we’re a place that has a character and a purpose and history of ourselves.'”

Dan Palmeri, commercial real estate broker, Cushman and Wakefield; Bob Coffin, city councilman, Las Vegas City Council; Della Rucker, managing editor, Engaging Cities; Chris Sieroty, business reporter and producer, KNPR's State of Nevada

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.