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May 6, 2015

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Dogged for years by crime, downtown Las Vegas experiencing improvements


Christopher DeVargas

Downtown Las Vegas business owner Michael Cornthwaite stands in an alley Friday, June 8, 2012, that he says has been significantly cleaned up by locals and police over the past few years.


Downtown Cocktail Room

111 Las Vegas Blvd S., Las Vegas

Michael Cornthwaite began work on the Downtown Cocktail Room seven years ago, at a time when beggars, drug dealers and prostitutes were still prevalent near his business at Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard.

His was one of the few businesses to venture east on Fremont Street, beyond the touristy blanket of the electric canopy over the Fremont Street Experience. East Fremont is original Las Vegas, an older area mostly abandoned by government and private business as riches and success seemed easier to attain under the electric canopy or further south on the Strip.

Cornthwaite waited, sometimes impatiently, for the people to come and for the criminals to leave.

It’s happening now, Metro Police told city officials, who backed it up with stats last week.

It didn’t come in time, however, for Cornthwaite to prevent his dog from being stolen.

One afternoon at his bar, a door had been left open and his Chihuahua, Cassie, wandered outside. Surveillance tape shows her dashing back into the bar. By then, however, a man and a woman had seen the dog and tried to coax her outside. Cassie wouldn’t go. So the man went in and took her.

After an extensive search and a few leads to the thief’s identity that led to potentially dead ends — Cornthwaite's life was threatened — he had faith he would see Cassie again but felt pursuing the dog was too dangerous.

The loss of Cassie devastated Cornthwaite. His loyalty to downtown hung by a thread.

But he stuck it out. And change is happening.

Evidence of the turn came Wednesday when Metro Police Capt. Richard Collins told the City Council about a dramatic downturn in most types of crime downtown, especially in the Fremont East corridor.

Serious crime throughout Las Vegas is down 25 percent since 2007, and only increased about 2 percent in the current year-to-date versus 2011.

The Downtown Area Command, known as DTAC, a subsection of Metro’s jurisdiction, is bound by Owens Avenue to the north, Sahara Avenue on the south, U.S. 95 to the east and Interstate 15 on the west. The area is more densely populated than most of the Las Vegas Valley and typically draws more calls for police service.

Within DTAC is the East Fremont Corridor, stretching from the Plaza at Main Street 16 blocks east to 15th Street. Within the corridor is the Downtown Cocktail Room, El Cortez casino and other businesses. In little more than a year, it will be home to more than 1,000 employees of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and others are also investing $350 million in startup tech businesses, restaurants, education and other target areas meant to make the area more livable.

Collins reported on the first four months of 2012 compared to the first four months of 2011. In that time:

  • Robberies fell from 24 to 20, or 17 percent.

  • Gun calls fell from 20 to 13, or 35 percent.

  • Assaults fell from 195 to 151, or 23 percent.

  • Fights fell from 60 to 48, or 20 percent.

  • Collins attributed a variety of policing methods to the reduction — the department’s community oriented policing and problem-solving units, video cameras, a homeless liaison program and developing relationships with businesses, neighbors and city officials.

    “A lot is (police) presence,” Collins said. “Presence is a deterrent.”

    In answer to a question from Councilman Bob Coffin, Collins said Metro was “horribly understaffed” downtown.

    “I’m not suggesting we take people from other places in town because there are other problem areas, but believe me, we need more police,” he added.

    Coffin commented that the city should fight to get an additional quarter-cent sales tax that voters approved years ago to hire more police officers. (Voters agreed to a half-cent sales tax total, but only a quarter-cent is currently in force.)

    Even with the staffing issue, Councilman Stavros Anthony said the change could be felt downtown. “When walking around, you feel like it’s a safe area.”

    “We’re getting there,” Collins replied. “It used to be if you walked below FIfth Street, you took a chance.”

    Fifth Street is roughly the location of Cornthwaite’s Downtown Cocktail Room. He took the chance seven years ago. His business is still going.

    He lost his dog.

    But he got it back.

    About nine months after Cassie disappeared, Cornthwaite got a call. A woman in Los Angeles told him she saw a Chihuahua jump out of a car “as if it wanted to get away.” No one in the car went after her. The woman caught the dog and noticed she had a tag.

    On it was a phone number.

    Days later, Cassie was back home.

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    1. I would like to thank Michael for opening a great bar that serves excellant cocktails.

    2. I'm so thankful to have the Cornthwaites in town. They have put their money and energy where their mouths are (and sometimes to the chagrin of Internet trolls). Las Vegas is lucky to have entrepreneurs like them. <3

    3. "In answer to a question from Councilman Bob Coffin, Collins said Metro was "horribly understaffed" downtown."

      Schoenmann -- my B$ meter is in the red on this one. I live in this area. I regularly see 2-3 Metro cars at simple pedestrian stops. Last July, 3 cars showed up for me driving without a plate, they were bicycle cops in cars, and all 3 stayed for the duration. Then there's the regular low-flying COPters.

      Metro is still in drastic need of not only an attitude adjustment but the budget ax.

      Otherwise a real good article showing downtown close to how it really is!

      "I heartily accept the motto, 'That government is best which governs least'; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically." -- Henry David Thoreau 1849 "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience"

    4. Those that "don't see it" are the ones that admittedly don't go Down Town. They have no first hand knowledge to back up their opinions.

      There will always be doubters that want the city to fail but there are more of us that know Down Town and Vegas are on their way back.

    5. Thanks to everyone who has "stuck it out" and stuck together to help make the revitalization of downtown a reality. Finally, after 20 years, 2012 is the year it all turns a corner, and everyone down here has played a part.

    6. We spend a lot of time in the Fremont Street area as locals, and it has gotten quite a bit better. The building facades have more of a fresh and inviting look than before. Food is fairly good up and down the Experience and into the east district. So all in all, I would say is a definite step in the right direction.

    7. Somehow raggin' on downtown after reading this article would be like shooting a bird with one wing. Good luck downtown Vegas, which I love to hate.