Las Vegas Sun

September 2, 2014

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Joe Downtown: Downtown Project takes over another building, but this time it’s different

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Joe Schoenmann

Michael Jones, left, co-owner of A Cut Above The Rest barbershop, located at Carson Avenue and 7th Street Wednesday, March 5, 2014. Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project has purchased the the barbershop’s building but Jones says his business, which has a lease into 2015, is being allowed to stay.

Click to enlarge photo

DTP has submitted a request to the city for a special use permit to develop a block-long section of Carson St. between 6th and 7th St.

Plans filed with the city for yet another Downtown Project development stand out immediately for one detail.

Of the four storefronts in the 49-year-old, orangeish structure on the northwest corner of Carson Avenue and Seventh Street, one of them contains a business.

But that’s not the unusual part.

What’s different is that rather than forcing A Cut Above The Rest out of the space to make way for its own plans, Downtown Project is letting the barbershop stay right where it is.

That’s good news to Michael Jones, who grew up in West Las Vegas and is co-owner of the shop he opened with Curtis Anderson and Timothy Wilkinson in 1994. They moved to the Carson Avenue location about 15 years ago, he said, and his current lease extends into 2015.

“This is a much-needed place downtown for people to come in and be treated like people,” Jones said.

Downtown Project did not return a request for comment.

The project been criticized, however, for some of its business practices downtown. Just two years old, “DTP,” as it is known, is a $350 million redevelopment group whose partners include Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.

The Project has used most of that $350 million to buy downtown real estate, focusing on the area around East Fremont Street, which for years had suffered from virtual abandonment by the city. It was not a place most people felt safe walking at night or, for some, even during the day.

That has largely changed for at least about four blocks of Fremont — from Las Vegas Boulevard east to roughly 9th Street — in large part because of Downtown Project’s investments.

Its biggest move so far was the closing then demolishing a decrepit motel at Seventh and Fremont that was turned it into an outdoor mall called Container Park. The mall’s centerpiece is a children’s play area.

Downtown Project now claims to have welcomed 300,000 visitors since the mall since opened in late November.

Foot traffic on East Fremont Street is now so great, that “beyond the Strip, is there any other place as pedestrian-based as it is here?,” Metro Police Capt. Shawn Anderson, who oversees the Downtown Area Command, said in a recent Sun interview.

Criticism has come from those who say Downtown Project has pushed aside businesses — an auto repair shop, a boxing gym and a deli/market — to make way for its own ventures, for instance.

It is also slowly moving tenants out of an affordable-rent apartment complex for renovations.

So the fact that A Cut Above The Rest hasn’t been pushed out of its store to make way for some other business will doubtless surprise some people.

Jones said six people work in the barbershop, many of them subcontractors who lease space. They include Flonzo Donaldson, who has been shining shoes for 30 years, the last 10 in Las Vegas.

“Oh, they look thirsty,” Donaldson said of a beat-up pair of black shoes readying for his touch. “We’re gonna give ‘em a good drink.”

He gently swabs cleaner, polish and other products into the shoes.

“They been needing a drink,” he said. “I’m just giving them something to fight the elements, give them something to fight back with.”

Donaldson provides the kind of quiet, non-flashy character sometimes hard to find downtown, a place where many are intent on telling anyone who will listen about the greatness of their next big business idea.

Then again, sometimes those ideas work.

Jones said he is looking forward to new businesses coming to his tiny corner of downtown. He heard one of them will be a late-night restaurant by Natalie Young, owner of Eat, the breakfast/lunch restaurant kitty-corner from the barbershop. Young told the Sun last year she planned to call it “White Bread.”

Plans before the Planning Commission Tuesday indicate Downtown Project is seeking three tavern-limited licenses for three different establishments within the building.

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover Downtown, he lives and works there. He is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded Downtown journalist, stationed at an office in Emergency Arts. His work appears in the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly.

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