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Downtown Rebound

It's back, baby

June 05, 2012
  • The Golden Gate Casino and Fremont Street Experience
The Golden Gate Casino and Fremont Street Experience

Downtown Las Vegas — where this whole Vegas adventure began in 1906 with the opening of the city’s first hotel — is back, and in a big way. Revamped hotel-casinos, a pedestrian-friendly main drag and the opening of major attractions including the $470-million Smith Center for the Performing Arts have injected new energy into an area that for decades was overshadowed by the glamour and glitz of the nearby Strip.

Downtown’s renaissance began in 1995 when its famed casino corridor, Fremont Street, was closed to autos and converted into a five-block pedestrian mall dubbed the “Fremont Street Experience” connecting 10 historic hotel-casinos. The Plaza, the Golden Gate, El Cortez, D Las Vegas (formerly Fitzgeralds) and other downtown properties have since invested hundreds of millions of dollars in remodeling and expanding.

“The entertainment, the lights, the gambling and the fun of the Strip wouldn’t exist without everything that started [downtown],” said Derek Stevens, co-owner and CEO of the Golden Gate and owner of D Las Vegas. “The downtown revitalization is exciting because it is restoring the glitz and glamour that attracted the likes of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., among others, to Vegas long ago.”

The Golden Gate, Sin City’s original hotel, is making vast improvements (including an expanded casino floor and a completely remodeled lobby) while preserving its historic aura. An additional 35,000-square-foot luxury tower will house 16 suites, including two top-floor penthouses.

“We’d really seen this influx of a younger demographic [to downtown],” said Alex Epstein, executive vice president and partner at downtown’s iconic El Cortez Hotel & Casino, “and there wasn’t really a room product or a hotel destination for that kind of visitor.”

The El Cortez has invested over $30 million in improvements, including refinishing all 363 of its guest rooms and remodeling its casino floor. The adjacent Ogden House Motel, previously an El Cortez overflow property, reopened in 2009 as the hotel’s boutique Cabana Suites.

The Plaza reopened in September after nearly a year of renovations. Using contemporary furnishings and materials purchased from the Strip’s Fontainebleau resort (after that hotel suspended construction), the Plaza boasts brand-new guest rooms, an entirely remodeled casino floor and lobby, and all-new restaurants and bars.

The future looks nothing but bright for downtown Las Vegas, according to Jeff Victor, president of the Fremont Street Experience.

“We are building a new multimillion-dollar zip-line attraction ... Zappos [online shoe and apparel shop] is moving its corporate headquarters and thousands of employees to downtown Las Vegas, the Downtown Grand hotel-casino will be opening in 2013, and more projects are being announced all the time.”

—Paul Rogers, Custom Publishing Writer

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