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Fremont Street Reopening Plans Post-Coronavirus

Chris Smith/Desert Companion

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, you could walk along the Freemont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas, and get your picture taken with an Elvis impersonator or maybe a Vegas showgirl.

On most days, tourists and locals alike glide overhead on the zip line, under the light show on the canopy.

The Fremont Street Experience even spent $32 million to renovate the canopy and light show.

But now, the entrance to the street is blocked off. Neonopolis is closed and the sidewalks are empty. 

The coronavirus has closed Fremont Street for the last two months. Will the crowds return when the chain-linked fences are removed?

Patrick Hughes is the president and CEO of the Fremont Street Experience.

He said the experience along with businesses and museums in the area are preparing to reopen as soon as they get the green light from the gaming industry, Nevada gaming officials and the state.

When the street does reopen, or as Hughes prefers to say unpauses, there will be visible changes to the area, specifically around cleaning and sanitizing.

"We can tell by the surveys already, surveying our customers, and the first thing that our tourists see is clear evidence of clean and safe surfaces," he said, "That's what we're going to be doing constantly."

Hughes said twice a day people are also going to see fogging of parts of the area that cleaning crews can't get to. The fog is a disinfectant that is eco-friendly and approved by the state.

Also, the experience staff will be better illuminated and there will be more city marshals and Las Vegas Metro Police officers in the area.

The Fremont Street Experience is known for being packed with tourists and locals but Hughes said they will be working to remind people to stay socially distanced with messaging throughout the area.

"There's the tagline previously of 'We've always gone one louder.' That's what we've done, but now we're going to be encouraging people to go one longer," he said, "Whereas six feet distancing will be recommended, we'll tell you to go seven feet just to go one longer."

There will also be markings throughout the pedestrian mall reminding people to stay six feet apart.   

As far as the return of concerts, Hughes is not sure but he does expect live music to continue. 

The downtown area goes far beyond the Fremont Street Experience. The Mob Museum is one of the most visited places in downtown Las Vegas.

Jonathan Ullman is the president and CEO of the museum. He told KNPR's State of Nevada that he hopes to reopen the museum May 31 - if the state allows.

Similar to what the Fremont Street Experience is doing, the Mob Museum will be putting in place new procedures to make sure visitors feel safe returning.

"It's paramount for us to give all of our guests an extremely safe environment," he said, "That's what people are looking for and that has to be what we greet people upon reopening."

Ullman said the museum has rearranged some exhibits to make it easier for people to stay separated. It has also changed some interactive exhibits so they don't require people to touch a button to active but instead a wave of a hand will start it.

The museum will be encouraging advanced reservations and visitors to wear masks. If a visitor doesn't have a mask, the museum will have them available for free.

In addition, the museum will go through extensive deep cleaning during its off-hours to ensure a safe environment.

"This the new world that we're apart of," Ullman said, "We need to make certain that it is extremely evident to folks how committed we are to a safe environment." 

The Fremont Street Experience is also home to the retail center Neonopolis. Rohit Joshi owns the center.

He said before the outbreak all 25 stores in the center were filled with tenants. During the outbreak, all but two closed - Denny's and the Fremont Wedding Chapel. A third operator is now opening - Heart Attack Grill.

Joshi said most of the tenants depend on foot traffic from the Fremont Street Experience for customers and when people do come back it will take some time to get back up to where they were before the shutdown.

He said in March most tenants paid their rent but that changed in April when only about 20 percent paid. Despite that, he is committed to helping them.

"We have told them we are here to support them," Joshi said, "Whatever it takes to get back into business and serve the community is our first goal. Whatever it takes, we will be with them." 

Joshi said he plans to work with each tenant on a rental payment plan because each of them has different circumstances.

He firmly believes it will just be a matter of time before the retail center gets back to what it was before the virus outbreak.

Ullman and Hughes are also optimistic about the future of downtown. Ullman noted that the area isn't just the Fremont Street Experience but also the Fremont East entertainment district, the Arts District and all the cultural establishments in the area.

He said they have been working together to be ready for when they are allowed to open their doors.

"You see the community coming together, which is really wonderful, because it is important... this is the heart of Las Vegas," he said, "This is where people have traditionally come for that historic, nostalgic, organic experience." 

While the gaming and entertainment industry of the Strip and Downtown work on just how to open up, there are questions about whether people will actually visit when the doors are open.

Hughes believes they will. He cited a recent survey that found in the first three months of reopening 37 percent of repeat customers will return to Las Vegas.

However, he said the reopening must be done right.

"What is imperative is that we all execute brilliantly in our standards and our cleaning and ensure that when we come out, when Las Vegas comes back, that we do so safely and ensure that our customers feel safe and they spread the word and we can get back to enjoying ourselves."

Patrick Hughes, president & CEO, Fremont Street Experience; Rohit Joshi, owner, Neonopolis;  Jonathan Ullman, president and CEO, Mob Museum

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(Editor's note: Chris Sieroty no longer works for Nevada Public Radio)