Published Thursday, March 28, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Updated Wednesday, April 10, 2013 | 2:34 p.m.
Data from Clark County Assessor's Office; map by Kyle B. Hansen; updated 4/10/13
The purchase of downtown — well, a good bunch of it, anyway — is almost complete.
Downtown Project insiders call the mass of land stretching over several blocks from Las Vegas Boulevard to Maryland Parkway “the llama,” because that’s what it sort of resembles from space.
For landowners who have held onto property, the purchases have been a monetary boon. The Downtown Project, whose principals include Tony Hsieh, the Zappos CEO whose redevelopment vision of downtown began when he announced in 2010 he would move his company headquarters there, in some instances is paying premium prices for the land.
Though the purchases are not entirely complete, the Sun scoured property records from Clark County Assessor’s records to find what has so far been recorded in the area and around Fremont Street from Las Vegas Boulevard to 11th Street and almost Maryland Parkway. We may have missed a few not yet recorded (it can take up to six weeks for a deal to show on the county site) and at least a few more purchases are possible, sources say.
We found 80 parcels purchased by different entities, all under the umbrella of Downtown Project partners, for about $93 million. The purchases totaled roughly 28 acres or an average of about $3.3 million per acre. Parcels differed in price based upon various factors such as whether the tracts included buildings or were vacant.
A 0.17-acre empty lot at 130 N. 11th St., for instance, sold for $125,000, which is about $735,000 an acre. But a 0.33-acre lot that includes a parking lot and the Eden Inn, 120 S. Sixth, sold for $2.6 million, about $7.9 million an acre.
The old Las Vegas City Hall, which Zappos will occupy as its headquarters this fall, is not included because Zappos is leasing the property from Resort Gaming Group, which bought it for $18 million.
Hsieh said the idea behind the real estate collection followed Downtown Project’s goal to “help create a walkable city.”
“In order for downtown to be walkable, you need connectivity and activation of things like retail, parks, restaurants and bars all within close proximity to each other,” he said. “Even a single block that is not activated can prevent people from walking any further.”
Today, most pedestrians feel safe walking from Las Vegas Boulevard east to Sixth and Seventh streets, which both are being redeveloped, remade and are daily bustling, more or less, with people.
Hsieh wants that comfort zone to expand.
“Our long-term goal is for people to feel safe and comfortable walking … all the way to 11th Street,” he said.
In instances where property hasn’t been bought, Downtown Project is working out leases with existing owners. A former Mexican restaurant has closed and an adjacent market on Fremont between Sixth and Seventh is soon to close, as the property owner is going to lease the buildings to Downtown Project.
Artemus Ham still owns one side of almost one block of lower Fremont Street; the El Cortez owns its block at Sixth and Fremont streets and property nearby; and sources say Downtown Project has not been able to come to terms on some properties, such as a long, rectangular and nearly empty mall at Maryland and Fremont.
Then there’s the Atomic, a bar at 917 Fremont, acquired last summer by three investors. One source said Downtown Project investors offered the owners $1 million over their purchase price but the new owners turned it down.
The importance of large conglomerations of land can’t be understated if you have “a grand plan” for what you want to do with it, says Robert Fielden, a local architect and longtime urban planner.
“If you’re going to own it, you want to have as much of it as you can,” Fielden said. “If you know what your development mix is going to be, you want as much property as you can get in order to carry out your plans.”
On a recent downtown tour, which is put on by Downtown Project and takes visitors through Hsieh’s condo on the 23rd floor of the Ogden, some of those plans were made evident. One wall in Hsieh’s condo is littered with what hundreds of different-colored Post-It Notes. Each lists a type of business that would be nice to have downtown, from a dog park to a grocer.
Leaning against a wall is also a satellite photo of downtown with a red outline in the shape, more or less, of a llama. The llama is purportedly Hsieh’s favorite animal; friends surprised him by bringing one to his birthday party in December.
Hsieh said he liked llamas long before anyone noticed how the outline of the land downtown looked like the South American animal.
When will it all come together?
Hsieh said he hopes “within the next year or two” the Fremont Street transformation will be so extensive that people will have no safety qualms about walking down to 11th Street.
“It takes time to get all the right players in place to work through something like this,” Fielden noted.
Indeed, Downtown Project in the past few months has hired more people to help with the voluminous number of decisions and processing of information about future development.
“It’s not rocket science,” Fielden added. “You start with a vision for what you want to do, then you have strategic goals about how to achieve that vision.”
Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.