Before the Strip there was downtown, the original Las Vegas founded in 1905 as a railroad stop. After Nevada legalized gambling in 1931, small gaming parlors began lining Fremont Street, setting the stage for a revolution in entertainment. Influenced by the neon-lit theaters of Broadway, Las Vegas harnessed electricity generated by nearby Hoover Dam to power Glitter Gulch, the arcade of hotel-casinos that followed the Golden Nugget’s opening in 1946.
Downtown was a neon super nova for decades, until changing times and tastes relegated the area into moribund obsolescence. Unable to compete with the mega-properties of the Strip, downtown’s revival began in 1995 with the Fremont Street Experience, a soaring five-block canopy of computerized light and sound effects. The visitors returned, but then the recession hit, and the momentum was lost.
Now, however, bright optimism is chasing away the twilight for good. Tony Hsieh, CEO of online retailer Zappos.com, has committed $350 million to his Downtown Project revitalization initiative, and with civic leaders passionately in support, capital and resolve are fueling a dynamic transformation already well under way.
“Visitors are quickly learning that downtown is the place to be,” says Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman. “Offering a vintage Vegas vibe, undeniable energy and exciting new artistic, cultural, dining and nightlife attractions, the renaissance of our city core is a truly exciting time for Las Vegas.”
From reincarnated hotels to futuristic new attractions, planners have options galore in ever-transforming downtown Vegas.