Living in the City

Local Developers Double Down on Downtown Las Vegas

Living/dining room at The Ogden

The pool at Juhl

Living/dining room at Juhl

By Lynn Wexler

I love city living. As a twenty-something young professional in the late ’80s, I reveled in the free-spirited lifestyle of Philadelphia’s Center City, followed by more than a decade of residing and working on Manhattan’s ultra-hip Upper West Side.

Cities are known centers of civilization, abuzz with energy, variety, and progress. City living in a relatively small sky-high abode can be a liberating experience, particularly when surrounded by convenient, exciting, culturally diverse, social, and easily accessible amenities.

Downtown Las Vegas, however, has historically not fit the city living paradigm enjoyed by many world-class metropolises. That’s despite its unique development as a global tourist destination.

The Las Vegas allure began in 1931 when Nevada legalized casino gambling and reduced residency requirements for divorce to six weeks. Following the end of World War II, the rise of glitzy hotels and gambling casinos that featured Hollywood headliners and showgirl extravaganzas defined the downtown area - located in the center of the Las Vegas Valley, just north of the current Las Vegas Strip. Today, downtown is defined geographically, bounded on the west by I-15, the north by Washington Avenue, the east by Maryland Parkway, and the south by Sahara Avenue. Fremont Street, the Fremont Street Experience (four blocks of casinos, hotels, restaurants, a pedestrian esplanade, retail, and street performers covered by an electric canopy), and Fremont East make up its epicenter.

As a sophisticated city dweller, I would never have considered moving to downtown Vegas when I moved here in 2006. Suffering from years of neglect, it was lacking in mass transportation, attractive and safe housing, and the quality amenities necessary for a vibrant and meaningful lifestyle.

A mere decade later…my tune is changing.

“Moving to downtown Vegas is fast evolving into a hot new trend, as is traveling here from the suburbs on a given weekday or weekend for dining, entertainment and people watching,” says Nick Polistino, who has lived downtown for most of his 63 years. “I’ve witnessed its decline and now its rebuilding, and that’s very exciting.”

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is largely credited with spearheading this urban rebirth through Downtown Project, an entity funded by a $350 million personal investment in the Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency.

One such beneficiary is the Container Park, located at Fremont and 7th. The park is a 34-outlet retail mall, complete with children’s playground and stage area, consisting of multiple pre-made cubic steel spaces, some of which are stacked three stories tall. At the entrance, a giant metallic praying mantis sculpture shoots flames out of its antennae.

“The Park’s opening began to give people a sense of confidence that old downtown, all but abandoned in previous years, was finally making a comeback,” says Henderson resident James Lohman. “Other than watching Pawn Stars on TV, this is the closest I’ve been to downtown in decades.”

CEO of Cherry Development, Sam Cherry, grew up in Las Vegas and has been living and invested in the downtown renaissance dream for fifteen years. His company’s mission states that, “Great cities are grown, not manufactured.”

Cherry’s vision for downtown is to create a living environment that exceeds that of simply finding a home and includes amenities that enable discovering a life.

“We’re here to make a vibrant city core – a place that’s electric, enticing and thoroughly unforgettable. Whether it’s friends at the corner table of the neighborhood coffee shop; spotting that must-have piece of fashion in an out-of-the-way boutique; the site of the forever legs of a six-foot model as she steps into an artist’s studio; or the sounds of a singer/songwriter lending his or her latest creation to the local soundscape… Downtown needs to be a place that is like no other,” says Cherry.

Cherry’s company developed two luxury condominium towers in the downtown area —Soho Lofts and Newport Lofts — during the Las Vegas housing bubble from 2000 to 2007.

“It was a time when the valley was awash in quick access money and soaring home prices. The objective is different now,” he says.

He learned from his experience in the hospitality industry that the bartender working downtown couldn’t afford to live there.

“Luxury high-rises tend to attract wealthy investors and out of town second-home buyers. That does not make for a thriving downtown living environment,” says Cherry.

Cherry Development is currently in the final planning phase to build a four story, 63 one-bedroom unit complex, complete with ground floor retail, located at Casino Center and Colorado.

“The idea is that they should be affordable for the working professional; small enough to want to get out and take advantage of the myriad amenities within walking distance; and comfortable enough to enjoy the building’s interior courtyard and floor lounges for yoga, business, art, etc.,” says Cherry.

Bill Arent is the Director of the Department of Economic and Urban Development for the city of Las Vegas. As work and play opportunities abound in the seven districts that make up the growing downtown area, Arent aims to provide information on residential options to the prospective urban dwellers.

“There’s a growing demand and interest in downtown living created by a desire to reduce commutes and participate in the area’s increasingly vibrant lifestyle amenities,” says Arent.  “With more than 150 restaurants and bars, museums, attractions, casinos and a world-class performing arts center, Downtown Las Vegas offers an exceptionally rich urban lifestyle not offered elsewhere in the valley.  As a result, a growing number of residents of all ages are moving to the area.”

The first of the seven districts Arent is referring to is the Fremont Street Casino District, home to the Fremont Street Experience and the original Las Vegas casinos, which existed before the now famous Las Vegas Strip.

The Fremont East Dining District, follows. Here is a three-block long pedestrian friendly walkway featuring an eclectic mix of bars, clubs, restaurants, and retro neon signage.

Then you have the Arts District, centered at Charleston and Main, home to the city’s art scene, offering a mix of galleries, studios, and shops with merchandise ranging from antiques, vintage clothing, and mid-20th century furnishings. The area is also host to the popular First Friday Festival, featuring art and music performances the first Friday of each month.

Symphony Park is a 61-acre parcel of land, west of Fremont and Main streets, under development by the City of Las Vegas and the Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency. The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, and the Discovery Children’s Center are three of their completed projects. The park will eventually include a mix of retail, medical, hotel and residential developments.

The final three districts encompass The Financial District, centered at Bonneville and Casino Center Blvd., and filled largely with government, court, and bank buildings, judicial related businesses, and is home to the newly renovated City Hall. The Arts and Cultural Corridor – located just north of the immediate Downtown area – includes the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, the Mob Museum, The Neon Museum and Boneyard, and the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort State Historic Park.

Finally, The Las Vegas Medical District, which encompasses over 680 acres – from Martin Luther King Blvd to Symphony Park to Charleston Blvd near the I-15 to Valley View. It will eventually offer the largest concentration of health-care services in the Las Vegas valley. Its centerpiece is the brand new 260,000 square foot UNLV School of Medicine which will open its doors this fall to the 2017 charter class.

Scott Adams, Las Vegas deputy city manager, suggests that, “Perhaps no single project has greater impact on Downtown than the Medical District. The growth of the medical industry is key to southern Nevada’s economic diversification strategy. It will help attract new, high-paying employers to the region; provide jobs; and stimulate additional development in and around downtown Las Vegas.” 

Rich Worthington, President and CEO of The Molasky Group of Companies, commented in a 2012 Review-Journal article that “Historically, downtown Las Vegas has not been a top destination for many locals but, in recent years, that trend is reversing itself. Given all the recent openings and progress, there’s so much to explore and experience downtown” .

Then there’s Juhl. “Juhl is a creative mix of brownstones, live/work spaces, lofts, flats and penthouses…all arrayed above The Promenade at Juhl – 20,000-square-feet of carefully curated ground-level retail,” explains Uri Vaknin. Vaknin is a partner at KRE Capital LLC., who, in partnership with Dune Real Estate Partners and Northcap, are the developers of Juhl and the Ogden – both upscale, hip, downtown high-rise towers catering to the professionals who work in and around downtown proper and are drawn to the urban lifestyle and contemporary aesthetic that are hallmarks of both properties. 

 “Juhl is home to many attorneys and others who work in the downtown legal and professional services community. Technology gurus, entrepreneurs and artists – all drawn to the area’s vibrancy and immediate access to all that downtown offers,” Vaknin continues. “I want to say…creativity lives here!”

“Last year, The Promenade at Juhl opened seven of eight planned retail spaces. To give you an idea of amenity living, we opened Greens & Proteins, a modern, family-friendly café with a healthy twist; Le Pho, a popular Vietnamese kitchen; Classic Jewel, a cocktail lounge; A/V Boutique, specializing in home theater retail and design; Downtown Décor, offering eclectic and esoteric home furnishings and décor; JAECI, offering inspirational jewelry; Galerie Miscre8, an urban gallery; Get a Haircut, a classic rock-themed barber shop; and coming soon is The Corner Market,” Vaknin shares.

The Juhl community sponsors its own Artist in Residence program that currently features Las Vegan Justin Favela, whose work is showcased in Tilting the Basin: Contemporary Art of Nevada - an exhibit featuring more than 30 artists living and working across Nevada. 

Vaknin also sits on the development board for the Nevada Museum of Art at Symphony Park, which is working in partnership with the Museum of Art in Reno - the state’s oldest cultural institution and one of only 5% of art museums nationally to carry accreditation. He’s hoping to see the museum celebrate a grand opening in five years’ time.

Phil Sheinman, of Urban Nest Realty, believes that between the light rail rapid transit line in development to transport commuters to and from the airport all the way through to Downtown; the Raiders football and Vegas Golden Knights hockey teams calling Las Vegas their home; the only city in America to host two annual NASCAR races; and all the other burgeoning amenities… it’s like all the tumblers on a safe door lining up – click…finally Las Vegas hits the jackpot.

“There are currently thirty-five high rise condos available on the market in the downtown area, priced from $169,995 to $650,000 - showing that the area is within reach of first time city buyers and those who can afford extravagance. And the amenities of the Downtown infrastructure cast a wide net, attracting yuppies, millennials, empty nesters and retirees alike,” says Sheinman.

It’s said that with its trillions of lights, Las Vegas is considered the brightest spot on earth – except, perhaps, for the city’s historic downtown jewel… too long relegated to the shadows. But the neon spectacle is remerging through enthusiastic gentrification, rendering it a center for city living at its finest – fun and sophisticated all at once.

So much so that this former city gal may rethink her tranquil life in the burbs…hoping (with apologies to Bruno Mars) that Downtown Funk gon’ give it to me. Don’t believe me? Just watch!

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