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Latest Vision for Las Vegas: A Downtown Vibe

Written By:

Michael Kimmelman

LAS VEGAS — Tony Hsieh didn’t look much like a modern-day Bugsy Siegel. Wearing backpack, T-shirt and jeans, standing outside a downtown bar, he patrolled his future empire along East Fremont Street here one sweltering morning.

But the flamboyant Siegel changed this city for good when he built the Flamingo Hotel, the first luxury casino on the Strip. Now Mr. Hsieh, a soft-spoken 39-year-old Internet billionaire who runs Zappos, the online clothing store, plans to do something as transformative. It’s a classic American dream: a Western-scale roll of the dice in a city that suddenly conjured up Belle Époque Paris and ancient Rome out of the desert. The idea this time is to build a version of the Mission district in San Francisco or the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn in downtown Vegas.

Mr. Hsieh (pronounced shay) is relocating Zappos headquarters from Henderson, Nev., about 16 miles away, and investing hundreds of millions of his own dollars to retrofit downtown with, well, a downtown, in line with the latest trends.

I came to check out the progress. There’s not much to see yet, but his $350 million Downtown Project — a mix of investments, acquisitions and loans — envisions blocks and blocks of community-based, pedestrian-friendly, small-business-oriented, high-density, high-tech urbanism in long-depressed and troubled neighborhoods. Zappos will take over the decrepit old City Hall. That gesture alone, salvaging a local landmark, has endeared Mr. Hsieh to many in Las Vegas.


New York Times