Las Vegas Sun

March 18, 2019

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Long, long overdue’: Fremont Street Experience getting canopy upgrade

Downtown Las Vegas

Julie Jacobson / AP

In this March 22, 2012, photo, tourists watch the canopy light show at the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas.

The Viva Vision light show canopy on Fremont Street — already the world’s largest single video screen — is being replaced with a newer, brighter model. And, officials say, upgrades to the existing 1,500-by-90-foot Viva Vision screen are desperately needed.

“If you think about how often we change out cellphones, we haven’t changed out the world’s largest LED screen in 15 years,” said Patrick Hughes, CEO of the Fremont Street Experience. “So it is long, long overdue.”

Hovering 90 feet above four blocks of the Fremont Street Experience, the new $32 million Viva Vision will be brighter, more technologically advanced and will significantly enhance the visitor experience downtown, Hughes said. Construction is scheduled to begin in May and will be spread out over eight separate phases, so that most of the screen will remain in use throughout the process.

The entire project will be finished in time for New Year’s Eve.

“New Year’s is the unveiling of the next generation of the Fremont Street Experience,” Hughes said. “We’re working with the city, the LVCVA [Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority] and our partners to really blow this one out of the water.”

Designed and constructed by an Illinois-based company called Watchfire Signs, the upgraded Viva Vision canopy is a partnership among the Fremont Street Experience, the LVCVA, the City of Las Vegas and a handful of casinos and hotels. The Fremont Street Experience is contributing $12 million to the project, the city is covering $10.7 million, the LVCVA will fund up to $9.5 million and the rest will be covered by private businesses in the area.

Mayor Carolyn Goodman said she is “terribly excited” for the new version of the canopy on Fremont Street.

“The shows overhead on Fremont Street have been a huge draw for visitors and an attraction that brings people downtown so that they can experience all of the restaurants, bars, arts and culture that the city offers,” Goodman said in a statement. “I cannot wait to ring in Jan. 1, 2020, under a brand-new canopy.”

Other than the brightness, the biggest difference between the existing Viva Vision and the new one, Hughes anticipates, will be the quality of the screen. The new screen will quadruple in resolution, appear up to eight times brighter than the current one and will be capable of lighting up at all hours of the day. It will also have a much higher refresh rate, which will make it easier for visitors to capture photos and videos with their phones or cameras.

At this time, the city is dreaming big about content offerings on the new LED screen. Hughes envisions the screen showing the same light shows it is known for today, as well as a variety of high-definition images ranging from starry skies to western landscapes to planes as they fly over the city in real-time.

“It is artistic, and not to slam it, but this is not going to be a Times Square advertising,” he said.

Click to enlarge photo

A smartphone app called The Key is being developed that will allow Fremont Street Experience visitors to vote for songs to be played.

Interactive elements of the canopy are also in the works. For example, visitors will be able to download a cellphone app called The Key that will allow them to vote on the next song played. Visitors will even be able to watch the canopy screen remotely through The Key.

“Ultimately, at the end of the day, our goal here is to create experiences,” Hughes said.

For Hughes, who took over the Fremont Street Experience in 2016, the upgrades to Viva Vision are part of an effort to continue to incentivize people to visit Fremont Street.

Cathy Tull, chief marketing officer at the LVCVA, said the enhancement fits into the mission of promoting downtown Las Vegas.

“Our annual Visitor Profile Study reports that more than half of Las Vegas visitors go downtown during their stay,” Tull wrote in an email. “Among those who do explore downtown, three out of five of them indicate that Fremont Street Experience was a key draw for their visit.”

However, only 5 percent of the city’s hotel rooms, Hughes said, are located downtown.

“This is absolutely a destination within a destination, but there’s a shortage of rooms,” he said.

That trend appears to be reversing, albeit slowly. The first hotel constructed in the neighborhood in over 40 years is expected to open in December 2020: the 44-story CircaResort.

In addition, the Fremont is adding a new, 509-room hotel tower, which will open in the next few years. Binion’s is in the process of expanding and renovating, and Fremont East continues to undergo redevelopment.

Now that the Spaghetti Bowl has reopened, Hughes added, visiting downtown is as convenient as ever before.

“That’s part of the reason these investments are coming, because it’s just easier to get here,” Hughes said. “It’s an incredible time to be down here.”