Downtown Project: The Locals’ Perspective

September 27, 2012

1:00 pm

This post is part of Tech Cocktail’s overview of the Downtown Projecta $350 million fund that aims to revitalize downtown Las Vegas by funding new buildings, education, small businesses, and tech startups.

Over the course of this past week, Tech Cocktail has been doing its best to paint the complete picture of what’s currently happening in Downtown Las Vegas.  Whether it’s how VegasTechFund is allocating their budget, the blending of the cultural lines between Zappos and the surrounding area, or a giant flame spraying grasshopper, you should now have a much better feel for what exactly the Downtown Project is all about.

But content is meaningless without context.  What Downtown Vegas is, or will become, would be given much more depth by being viewed through the eyes of those who’ve seen where it’s coming from.  What is the take of those who’ve been living in the area since Old City Hall (i.e. soon-to-be Zappos Headquarters) was just City Hall?

The Locals’ Perspective

We were finishing up our Downtown Project informational walkthrough led by Andy White.  Surrounded by blueprints hung on the wall and stacked on the floor, White paused to ask the crowd of 20 or so visitors if they had any questions.  Someone quickly interjected:

“I know this isn’t a question, but I just want to say that I’ve been living in Las Vegas for the last 15 years.  I absolutely love what you’re doing here, and so does everyone I talk to about.  We think it’s amazing.”

Although the first piece of local feedback was unequivocally positive, this particular individual lived outside of Downtown Las Vegas.  She came to Fremont street from time to time over the past few years, but really wasn’t plugged into the day-to-day.  Additionally, she wasn’t interested in the tech scene, which is a vote of confidence for the project, they’re looking to appeal to everyone in the area, but naturally my curiosity had more of a tech-bias.

The next day, I sat down over lunch with Kim Schaefer, a Downtown Project staff writer.  Schaefer has been a Vegas resident for more than a decade and has lived Downtown since April.

When I lived in the suburbs I didn’t know my next-door neighbor’s name.  That’s not the case around here; people know each other.  Its a self-selected group of people who believe in what’s happening.  We’re trying to build this into a place where you want to work, live, and play, and you can already feel that happening.

Next I caught up with Dylan Bathurst, a resident of the Vegas area for the last four years, the first three as an employee at Zappos.  Bathurst is now the CEO and co-founder at Rumgr and one of the original organizers of Vegas Tech Jelly.

Downtown has done a total 180 so far.  When I first moved out here, there were a couple of bars in the area.  You’d go straight from your car to the bar and then back to your car.  It was sketchy; there wasn’t any reason to hang around.  Now there’s always something going on and they’re pretty much all locals, which is great.

The upstairs room at The Beat Coffeehouse is the area’s central co-working facility.  Membership is $25 for the year.  This is where the aforementioned Jellys are held every Thursday.  During my first Jelly, I ran into John Lynn who owns and operates a series of blogs including  Lynn has been living in the Vegas area for more than seven years.  In his eyes, the contrast over the last year or two is sharp:

“When I first quit my day job to do a tech startup company, I looked high and low for qualified talent to help me build and market the product.  I could only think of a couple people who understood the idea of building a true tech startup community.”  Lynn continues, “I now know hundreds of qualified people that I could work with in a startup company.  Turns out that there were a number of startup people in Las Vegas, but none of us knew each other.”

Lynn attributes much of this to the influx in tech meetups, including Jelly, saying, “Today you can attend a different event almost every day of the week, with many events overlapping.”   This effect will only increase as the young, tech-savy Zappos workforce begins to migrate toward Downtown.

Weigh in

Granted, this is only a small sample of the total Vegas population.  I’m sure there are those who have their hesitations and likely others who are flat out opposed to what’s happening – I just didn’t encounter it.

We want to hear the perspectives of more local Downtown Las Vegas residents.  If you know someone living in the area, please, share this post and encourage them to share their take in the comments below.  

Lead image credit: Aimee Groth, Business Insider

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When Zach Davis isn’t getting lost in the mountains, he is hustling from Boulder, CO as Tech Cocktail’s Director of Marketing. He is the author of Appalachian Trials, a book chronicling the mindset necessary for thru-hiking all 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a feat he accomplished in 2011. Zach is a green tea enthusiast, die-hard Chicago sports fan, and avid concert-goer. Follow Zach on Twitter: @zrdavis.

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