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From Austin to Fremont: Borrowing redevelopment ideas

Reported by: Tom Hawley
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Updated: 5/12/2014 12:06 pm
LAS VEGAS (KSNV — There have been many attempts over the past three decades to revitalize downtown Las Vegas, particularly Fremont east of Las Vegas Boulevard.

They've met with mixed success, but no program has invested in a solution the way The Downtown Project is doing it today. Officials are hoping to see a transformation similar to what has happened in downtown Austin, Texas.

Former Austin Mayor Will Wynn had been a consultant to The Downtown Project.

“It's uncanny how similar it is,” he said. “This part of downtown ... these six blocks we're in the middle of, looked precisely like any of those blocks along east Fremont or a block or so on either side, north of south of East Fremont.

“I heard Tony Hsieh speaking in Chicago at a Clinton Global Initiative event that I was also speaking at. And he mentioned some similarities of what he was thinking about his new Zappos move into the old downtown of Las Vegas, in their old city hall, coincidentally. So I approached him and told him we should talk because I had some experience of something similar to that.”

The goal was to create a vibrant entertainment district that draws locals and requires fun clubs, bars, restaurants and bistros. East Fremont is well on the way there. But you also want it to come alive by having people circulate. That requires easy access and a pedestrian-friendly environment. This is where Las Vegas can take some lessons from Austin.

Kim Schaefer of The Downtown Project says one solution is partnering with the city on a new 369-space parking lot across from the reopened Atomic Liquors.

“One of the challenges we have as a city is that we are really focused on a car culture,” Schaefer said. “And we're so used to being able to pull right up to the front door and park.

“So it's a really inexpensive way and really a central location to be able to park your car and walk around this great neighborhood.”

Ideally, Fremont will see more and more people who don't bring a car because they live there. Las Vegas is now in a situation Austin was a decade ago: coming out of an economic slump, with plenty of new options for downtown attractive residential housing.

There is one major difference between Austin and Fremont: Will Wynn had to work with his City Council to find votes and scare up funding while The Downtown Project has directly investing $350 million on and near Fremont.


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