‘Revitalization’ a downtown cliché?

Oct 11, 2005 6:13 AM

Last week, Tilman Fertitta, the new owner of the Golden Nugget, vowed to "revitalize downtown Las Vegas" through planned enhancements at the property he had just purchased from dotcom millionaires, Tim Poster and Tom Breitling.

Two years earlier, Poster and Breitling said virtually the same thing, after they purchased the Golden Nugget from MGM Mirage.

"We love the idea of integrating the style of ”˜Old Las Vegas’ classics with new, innovative approaches," Breitling said at the time. "In fact, we intend to make exciting enhancements to the property’s entertainment, dining and casino floor over the coming months."

There’s no question the former Nugget owners made changes: They raised blackjack limits and craps odds, offered a wider variety of sports betting options, and actively cultivated the casino’s high-roller business.

They also lured big name entertainers such as Tony Bennett, and landed a cable TV show that filmed at the casino for an entire season.

But many downtown observers say they’re still waiting for the "enhancements" that would whet tourists’ appetite for visiting Fremont Street.

The same could be said of Barrick Gaming, which nearly three years ago purchased four downtown casinos — the Plaza, Las Vegas Club, Western Hotel and Gold Spike — from Las Vegas casino pioneer Jackie Gaughan.

Barrick officials at the time also unveiled plans for a "major revitalization of downtown Las Vegas" that would include building new hotel towers, expanding casino floor space and turning two aging, low-end downtown properties (Hotel Nevada and Queen of Hearts motel) into "quality boutique hotels with a quality retail component."

So far, none of those developments has taken place.

In recent years, there have been efforts to "revitalize" downtown Las Vegas, but there’s very little evidence to suggest much has taken place.

Instead, there’s been a steady flow of "redevelopment," most of which is occurring away from Fremont Street and the downtown casino-hotels.

For instance, on the other side of the railroad tracks, the new World Market Center opened a couple of months ago, showcasing 1,200 exhibitors in the area of home furnishing and design.

Also, throughout the downtown area there are a variety of residential high-rise ventures in various stages of design and construction. Some of the more solid projects include the SoHo Lofts — two medium-rise townhouse projects at 100 S. Maryland Pkwy. and 1980 Fremont Street.

Other condo projects planned for the area surrounding Fremont Street include the French Quarter Lofts, Club Renaissance, Newport Lofts and Streamline Tower.

"These lofts are another sign of the continuing revitalization of downtown Las Vegas," said Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman. "This kind of development would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago."

Actually, the only real commercial development that has occurred in downtown’s casino district has been the Third Street Promenade, which is being developed by the Lady Luck owners.

This new cluster of dining and entertainment businesses is just a couple of blocks from the Fremont Street Experience, on the block that was once the Trolley Stop Casino.

The first tenant to open was Hogs and Heifers nightclub, the New York-based nightspot that gained fame as the inspiration for the movie, "Coyote Ugly."

The Henry Brent Company, which owns the Lady Luck Hotel-Casino, is developing the Third Street Promenade into a mall for entertainment, restaurants, clubs and retail outlets.

In addition to Hogs and Heifers, several other taverns and restaurants are planned, including a New Orleans-style nightclub, bar and grill and a French-style burlesque theater.

Even though the Third Street Promenade is just a few months old, there are rumors that the gay-themed nightclub is failing and that other potential tenants have been slow to sign on.

To underscore the difficulty of bringing new business to the downtown area, last week the mayor and the company charged with developing the 61 acres behind the Plaza announced they didn’t have a solid plan, even though they’ve worked for months on the project.

The Related Companies was supposed to produce a development plan but company officials said they didn’t have enough "protection" in the form of exclusivity agreements with the city.

The 61-acre site is considered key to the development of downtown Las Vegas. Initial plans call for a performing arts center and medical center, as well as residential and commercial buildings and an enclosed baseball stadium.

The mayor has said that, if the Related Companies failed to produce a working plan, then the city would assume the development duties.

There was no word from the mayor’s office last week about the status of the 61 acres.