Back in the 1940s, an entrepreneur named Bugsy Siegel had big dreams for a shimmering oasis in the heart of the Mojave desert, and from his vision, the Las Vegas as we know it today was born. 70 years later the heart of the city is crumbling, but another visionary has appeared with an entirely new dream for the struggling downtown area. Today, Zappos billionaire Tony Hsieh is working hard along with the Downtown Partnership to change Sin City into a flourishing, sustainable urban center.
Downtown Las Vegas shouldn’t be confused with the infamous Strip, the latter of which still maintains a glossy aura for the thriving tourism trade. But just north of the Strip lies the city’s broken-down central business district. Greg Hanscom with Grist caught up with the city’s newest champion to discuss the project that could change the city from the inside-out.
In 2010, Zappos moved its headquarters to the old Las Vegas City Hall, bringing along 1,500 employees. Since then Hsieh and the Downtown Partnership have built a shopping mall out of shipping containers, a community wellness center with gym and demonstration kitchen, and a vehicle sharing service that allows members to share golf carts, Tesla cars and bikes to get around town. There is also an elementary school that focuses on “neuroplasticity, social-emotional learning, and entrepreneurialism,” according to the Downtown Partnership.
Hsieh sees the new downtown as a sort of new Silicon Valley and many would-be entrepreneurs are taking the bait. The one thing lacking is a focus on housing, which Hsieh believes will happen on its own as people move in for the downtown attractions. If Hsieh’s vision works, it could demonstrate to the rest of the world that a sustainable urban core is not only possible, but may just change the face of your entire city.