Going Downtown

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How did things develop from a dusty railroad town, to one with a skyline than includes some stunning Downtown Las Vegas Condos? After Rafael Riviera was the first non-native to enter the Las Vegas valley in 1829, it took until the turn of the century before growth really took off. Senator William Clark built a railroad through Las Vegas, and after construction started in 1904, people soon followed. 1,200 lots on the east side of the railroad were auctioned off on 15th May 1905, and this Clark townsite became what we today know as Downtown.

The railroad saw Las Vegas’s population reach just over 5,000 in the late 1920s, the workers that came to construct the Hoover Dam between 1931 and 1935 provided a further boost, and the legalization of gambling in 1931 started the tourist industry. Downtown grew to be the main gambling area, with casinos popping up along Fremont Street. Glitter Gulch’s highlights included the heyday of high stakes betting at Benny Binion’s Horseshoe in the 1950s, the Mint Hotel becoming the first Downtown high rise in 1965, and Steve Wynn revamping the Golden Nugget in the 1970s.

Downtown’s Fremont Street and Main Street were the center of all activity in Las Vegas for many years, but suburbanization and the rise of the Strip have seen its influence lessen. Once McCarran airport opened at the southern end of the Strip in 1948, it was clear that Downtown would no longer be the leader in tourism, gaming, or employment. This lead to years of decline, and since the 1980s that have been repeated initiatives to revitalize the area.

In 1989 city officials contributed $17 million of taxpayer funds to open the Main Street Station casino. Unfortunately the city’s development partner, who contributed a further $65m to the project declared the casino bankrupt in 1991, and it was closed in 1992. The city’s loss was Boyd Gaming’s gain, when the group snapped up the property for $16.5m in 1993.

The next venture was more successful, when $70 million of public and private funds was allocated to the Fremont Street Experience. The overhead canopy had the effect of improving access to casinos and of attracting tourists with its lightshow. The next venture, Neonopolis, a 250,000 sq ft shopping mall, was a $100 million entertainment complex on the Fremont Street Experience, at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard. Despite three miles of neon lights its commercial success has not been bright.

In addition to these commercial ventures, government projects have come to Downtown: the Clark County Regional Justice Center, Clark County Government Center, Lloyd D. George Federal Court Building, and expansion of Las Vegas City Hall.

Recently there has been a move to preserve Downtown’s historic buildings, and in 1991 the Historic Preservation Commission was formed. Successful cases include the John S. Park neighborhood being awarded preservation status, and the city’s acquisition of the neo-classical building at 201 Stewart Avenue.

At Downtown Las Vegas’ west edge, is 61 contiguous acres that are now known as Symphony Park (formerly known as Union Park). The site has a railway running down its east side which creates a border to the rest of Downtown. The land came under the City’s control in 2000 when Mayor Oscar Goodman made a land trade with Lehman Brothers. One of the original ideas was to bring a national sports franchise to Vegas, but that didn’t pan out. Since then various developments have taken hold, from the World Jewelry Center, to the Performing Arts Center.

Alongside these changes in Downtown’s commercial center there have been changes in the housing market. Two of the most significant developments in recent times have been Sam Cherry’s Soho Lofts and Newport Lofts. The introduction of Downtown Las Vegas Condos has added another lifestyle option to the area. However, most of the housing stock in the area is dated, and there are areas of low-income housing that require improvements. This was recognized as far back as 2000 when the Tom Hom Group of developers opened the 320 unit complex Campaige Place. This was followed by the City Center apartments in 2003.

Downtown tends to attract serious gamblers who have a nose for value. The fact that the casinos are so close to one another is appreciated by the gambler looking for action. For visitors to downtown there are plenty of things to visit including:

  • The Arts Factory complex started in 1997 when Wes Isbutt set up shop, and it has since expanded to become a thriving arts scene. In addition to paintings and photos it has everything from yoga to restaurants
  • Binion’s is famed for its no-limit gambling policy. If you want to lay a million on red then this is the place to do it. Since opening in 1951 this casino has built a reputation for poker and serious gaming. It has a country and western theme


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