Since arriving on the scene in 2006, Detroit native Derek Stevens has made one splash after another in Downtown Las Vegas. First was his 50 percent stake in the Golden Gate Hotel & Casino, famously Vegas’ first hotel from 1906, which he and brother Greg have since upgraded and now own outright. Next, they transformed the ailing Fitzgerald’s into 629-room party palace the D Las Vegas. And now they are underway with their biggest project yet, a new-build property across from the Golden Gate on the combined sites of the now-demolished Las Vegas Club, Glitter Gulch and Mermaids.   

For Derek, a hands-on, out-front operator in the classic Downtown Vegas style, it’s all about having fun.

“I generally don’t take myself too seriously,” he said to start our sit-down in the D’s popular 12th-floor, 6,000-square-foot Detroit Ballroom, part of some 11,000 square feet of flexible space at the property. “In 2006, the Fremont Street Experience (FSE) was not yet a home run. But I knew it could be a top American entertainment destination.”

His vision and supporting investments were spot on.

“In 2017, FSE attracted 22 million visitors,” he continued. “That’s out of the nearly 43 million who came to Vegas and second only to Times Square among U.S. destinations. And it was a collaborative effort, from former Mayor Oscar Goodman changing zoning laws to permit 24/7 alcohol service to Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project attracting start-ups and younger workers.”

At the D, Stevens gave the sweat equity crowd a place to party and has never looked back. Now FSE is part of the Vegas heartbeat, groups included.

“Southwest Airlines and Microsoft are among the large-scale conventions that bought out the street,” he said. “It’s ideal for opening cocktail parties or closing award ceremonies. And it’s a collective effort. FSE is a corporation co-owned by the major Downtown properties. We meet weekly, focused together on getting visitors here. After that, we market ourselves.”  

Downtown visitors will hit 3.5 casinos.

“It’s been that way for decades,” Stevens said. “We don’t overthink our plan. The D is about sensory overload, dancing, sports and smiles. We hire unique, hard-working personalities who return after hours with friends and constantly generate new ideas. The biggest kick are the characters we get at the D. No need to script our daily theater—it walks in hot through the door. And for groups, we offer an open canvas and resources to bring their big ideas to life.”

Outside on the ballroom’s 100-capacity Traverse City Patio, which overlooks his versatile year-round outdoor Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, Stevens spoke of his “great responsibility” in developing his new property.

“There’s been a lull in defining moments, like the opening of the Mirage or ARIA. Now, with projects like the new Convention Center District, MSG Sphere and Fontainebleau revival, an exciting new evolution is underway, and that includes the land assemblage for our new development. At the corner of Main and Fremont Streets, it’s the most important city block in Las Vegas history. For our community, I take that very seriously.”  

Construction starts “early next year” on “an attraction-based property with significant meeting and convention space.”

The FSE partnership is also contributing nearly $13 million to the upcoming $33 million upgrade of the FSE’s LED light display.

“It’s our biggest investment to date,” said Stevens, who’s fully behind Vegas as an economic center. “Business absolutely gets done in Vegas. Everybody comes here because they want to be here. Vegas is highly efficient—you see more customers and vendors than anywhere else—and great fun.”