Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Downtown Project and Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh lean on entrepreneurs to make old Las Vegas a go-to destination

A trip to ICSC Dealmaking is an annual rite of passage for many of us who work in the retail environment - and this year was no different. Usually the trip involves lots of walking in a variety of air conditioned environments, so I was pleasantly surprised when an old friend and former BID Director - who now works for a large mall developer - suggested we visit Downtown Las Vegas for lunch. I was thrilled to accept the invitation, especially after he reached out to Resort Gaming Group, the development company that executes the revitalization effort. They served up John Curran for a fantastic tour (thank you John!).  We were also joined by David Downey, Executive Director of the IDA (and whose Board I sit on). With cab fare in hand, the three of us flagged a taxi to take us the two miles from the convention center to the old downtown.

For those who don't know, Downtown Vegas is the home of Zappo's CEO Tony Hsieh's efforts to create an entirely new kind of "office park".  Instead of a staid office park surrounding by not much (which is how you might describe Zappo's previous home in a suburban area outside Las Vegas), Hsieh flipped the script and took over the old Las Vegas City Hall after the City left, bringing in nearly 2,000 employees to the area. Not only  that, but he also backed an effort, known as "The Downtown Project" with $350 million of his own dollars. What has been done so far is still in its nascent stages, but the outcomes are many. The difference with this effort and other downtown revitalization efforts with which I am familiar is that it is less focused on physical improvements. Instead, the effort is starting with entrepreneurs - they have sought out multiple business owners with the passion, energy and creative drive to make a go of something interesting and unique. The three efforts that I was most impressed with were Container Park (a shopping/civic center for start up bus, the Market (a small specialty grocery store) and the Oasis, a hip motel that cashes in on the Las Vegas retro vibe. See pics below. For more on Hsieh's efforts and the Downtown Project, check out this Freakonomics Podcast ("Could the next Brooklyn be Las Vegas?"). Well worth the listen.

 Container Park: One of the more interesting efforts is the Container Park - a block of small business spaces located in custom made shipping containers.
The entrance to the Container Park - a shopping/civic/entertainment
space that aims to offer budding entrepreneurs a place to test their business concepts. 

The interior of the block includes a great play space for kids

More kids...

Shipping containers = spaces for small businesses
Restaurants have also set up shop
The Market, a small grocery store to serve a growing population: To make up for a lack of a grocery store (and still too little residential or employee demand to support a traditional grocery store) RGG helped establish one themselves.

Local residents no longer have to travel far for the basics. The Market is a Downtown Project
supported effort that provides an important amenity for a growing residential population. 
The Market is heavy on prepared foods for the busy Zappo's employee

The Oasis, a retro boutique motel (formerly a Travel Inn Motel) was completed rehabbed by the Downtown Project and now serves as a cool spot for visitors. 

The Oasis at Gold Spike offers high class, but low priced, accommodations. 
The swimming pool is a welcome reprieve from the Las Vegas sun. 

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Larisa.

    The container park looks like it is modeled on the one in Shoreditch, in East London.

    At least from the pictures, though, the Market is lacking something atmospherically -- it looks a bit flat. Maybe it is the lighting?

    Finally, who, specifically, is Resort Gaming Group? Is it Tony Hsieh? Or a fee developer for the Downtown Project, in which Hsieh is the major investor?