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Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: Downtown Project answers your questions

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Got a question or gripe about Downtown Project? Send it to Joe.
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Everyone gripes, and as a reporter, you hear them daily.

That’s a good thing. Gripes get you to look beneath the surface. Even if it comes to nothing, many times the search can lead to other stories.

People also gripe about me. Someone approached me last week: “[We] decided you’ve gone negative,” said the nice woman.

My column about Downtown parking issues had just come out. For many people who work, live or play Downtown, the area’s rebirth is making it harder to find good, inexpensive parking.

I’ve also written about other gripes: the fears of Zappos employees about walking Downtown streets; cab drivers who won’t give people rides; worries that nighttime partiers on Fremont Street might get out of control.

In the last month, not a day has passed without me hearing gripes about Downtown Project and/or Zappos. They range from the ludicrous—Zappos uses mind control on employees—to those best described as a “feeling”—that natives feel shoved aside or unwelcome inside the Downtown “bubble.”

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and staff hear and read the gripes, too. One Zappos staffer told me of an online post by someone wanting to “blow up” Zappos.

That brings me to an exclusive feature to be published periodically in the Weekly and Las Vegas Sun. To address the gripes and allay fears, Zappos and the separate Downtown Project will answer questions from readers about what they’re doing, how they’re doing it and why.

Here’s the first batch of questions, with answers provided by Downtown Project spokeswoman Kim Schaefer. Email me yours at joe.downtown@lasvegassun.com.

What’s Downtown Project’s vision for Downtown? What are the organization’s goals? We have several goals, including helping make Downtown a place of inspiration, entrepreneurial energy, creativity, innovation and learning. Our strategy to do so is by accelerating three C’s: collisions, co-learning and connectedness. Our initial area of focus is in and near the Fremont East area, but long term we aspire to help connect all of Downtown. We would like to help create a place where the community has everything that is needed to live/work/play within walking and biking distance.

Why did you announce last year that you were essentially done buying property but then kept buying? It feels like you lied. All real estate transactions are not done by Downtown Project directly. We have partnered with Resort Gaming Group, and their directive has been to use their best judgment to acquire real estate within our area of initial focus. Our initial goal was to acquire enough property so that we would have enough connectivity for us to develop upon in order to help create a walkable neighborhood. At the end of last year, we were satisfied that we had assembled enough property for that to happen. That being said, RGG has been instructed to continue to evaluate opportunities as they become available, and if they make economic sense and help with walkability and connectivity, then to consider those on a case-by-case basis.

Our thoughts have changed about many things over the last year as we have learned more, done more and seen more of what works and what doesn’t in this process. ... Our philosophy about real estate purchases has always been to be open-minded about the possibilities of a property when it becomes available. Historically, there has been no top-down plan to acquire property with specific intentions. Instead, we acquire property and then take time to think about activating it in ways that make the most sense for helping to realize our goals and to improve the neighborhood.

What can community leaders and businesses do to support Zappos and get involved with the company Downtown? First, we should be clear that Downtown Project is a completely separate entity from Zappos. Zappos tries to reach out to local businesses as much as possible. Zappos also tries to keep on top of new business openings, but it’s a big job and we are a relatively small team. If you want to meet the Zappos Downtown Team, community members and/or businesses can reach us directly at downtownteam@zappos.com. Once we know them, it’s easier to figure out what ways they can offer support for us, and how we can help support them.

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Joe Schoenmann

A native Wisconsinite, Joe earned a journalism degree to get out of college early but wanted none of the craft ...

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