Monday, February 13, 2012

Tony Hsieh's Plan to Ressurect Downtown Las Vegas

I don't care about shoes.

My Converse All Stars are are basically a mess of ripped canvas, rubber, and duct tape that are an epic daily struggle to pull on before I stumble out the door in a caffeine-deprived fugue-state every morning. My philosophy on replacing shoes basically boils down to: I'll get new ones when my current pair no longer adequately protect my feet from hot asphalt, rocks, and used needles.

Though I could care less about footwear, I am a fan of Zappos.Com. The extremely successful web-shoe store (okay I know they sell more than shoes now, but it's what they're primarily known for) has an exceptionally creative and charismatic CEO in Tony Hsieh (whose youthful mega-success makes me feel insecure about my own life and accomplishments, but that's nothing new) who emphasizes transparency (offering tours of the company's offices to anybody who cares to take them) and employee happiness (as he strives to make his campus a fun, creative and vibrant place to work, complete with personally and elaborately themed cubicles, a nap room, and a closet filled with Razor Scooters).

But the most awesome thing about Hsieh and his Zappos team is their plan to turn Downtown Las Vegas into a vital metropolitan center where smart tech companies operate during the day and cool bars, restaurants, and music venues are filled with people night after night.

It's an ambitious goal. While The Strip is one of the most jam packed avenues in the world, Downtown is still largely a ghost-town. I have written extensively on this blog about the DTLV haunts that I love, like The Griffin, Beauty Bar, and Insert Coins. I've talked about the First Fridays Art Festival and how it's brings out the artsy types once a month. I've declared (and we all know how much weight and influence my declarations carry) that Downtown Las Vegas is essentially becoming the center of the young, urban, artistic, crowd, the hipster mecca of one of the most overly commercialized and gaudy cities ever built by man (don't take that as a criticism; you know I love you Sin City). So sure, there are many disparate hipster elements that have come together in Downtown to make it a neighborhood of growing coolness, but what the area really needs is a creative visionary who believes in the potential of the district to pull everything together in a coherent way and really help it reach its full potential. And it seems like that visionary just might be Tony Hsieh.

Hsieh and a few other investors bought the rights to the First Fridays event from non-profit group Whirlygig for $2 million. The move was a surprise to gallery owners and artists, but the biggest shock is that nobody has protested. While corporate interests taking over an art festival from a non-profit group would often be criticized as dangerously close to selling out, it's a credit to the goodwill that Hsieh and his company have built up in the Las Vegas community that people were excited about the change and the infusion of ideas (and cash) that it would bring. Hsieh has also moved Zappos HQ into the old City Hall building, a very cool historic structure that would probably have been demolished eventually otherwise. The influx of young employees is directly responsible for the existence of The Beat Coffeehouse, a super cool venue that hosts local bands and sells great beer, vinyl records, and excellent coffee.

The inventive CEO and his merry band of followers have bigger plans to continue investing in Downtown's revitalization, with the hope that more forward thinking companies who want to a taste of that Zappos magic (and lax Nevada tax codes), cool bars, restaurants, music venues, comedy clubs, record stores, movie theaters, and interesting hotels (Ace Hotel DTLV! Do it!) will take an interest in setting up shop there. It's a big dream that will take years to come to fruition, but Tony Hsieh seems like the type of guy who has the creative vision and resources (he's invested a bunch of his own money into the idea and claims he's as motivated by the desire to live in a cool neighborhood and support his city as much as he's doing for business reasons) to really transform Downtown into a special place.

And if it will help his plan at all, I might just order myself a new pair of Chuck's from Zappos. I'll call it my contribution to the cause.

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