Four months ago at the Smith Center, hundreds of people gathered to watch a short video in which Las Vegas city officials declared that Third Street represented the center of Downtown.
I sat way in the back. I doubt anyone saw me scoff.
Third Street has the Mob Bar, Triple George Grill and Hogs & Heifers. The Mob Museum can be seen at the end of the street. But the “it” place is East Fremont Street, where Downtown Project is lining the streets with gold, so to speak.
So despite the vision of Seth Schorr and his team, whose ambitious plans to remodel the Lady Luck looked incredible on paper, the idea that a tiny slice of street and a casino resort could become some kind of synergistic center Downtown seemed about as likely as a $2,000-per-hour hooker in a Motel 6.
Then I met Schorr at the Downtown Grand, Lady Luck’s new name, Tuesday morning to take a look around.
Before I proceed, let me get this out of the way: Casinos are not my thing. They all look and sound and feel the same to me after so many years. Like most locals, I actively avoid the Strip, and all I could remember of the old Lady Luck was the stench of prime rib-and-baked potato dinners that seemed to pour from the ventilation system. So I was predisposed to disliking Downtown Grand, which will wrap construction by the end of October. And I could not have been more mistaken.
You can walk into restaurants and bars from the street, without ever having to pass slot machines. Where massive AC units used to sit, there is now a rooftop bar and pool with artificial grass for picnics. Beneath Downtown Grand’s west tower, the first floor will be home to five non-franchise eateries, with price points from $10 to $12. You open the door from the street and you’re already there.
Schorr has a long history in casinos. Among his detail-oriented approach: He’s tweaked the traditional model and created one-stop, 24/7 shops for the cash-out cages and players’ club cards. He’s also put a deli smack-dab in the middle of the sports book.
But here’s why Downtown Grand is really going to succeed and, IMHO, become a focal point for a lot of Downtown newcomers: 1,500-plus Zappos employees.
It’s about a block east of Zappos, so walking there takes maybe three minutes. By contrast, walking to Fremont East, where redevelopment is taking place, takes “forever,” in the minds of convenience-seekers. Remember, too, Zappos employees get good free eats on the job.
Then again, Fremont East changes are coming. The Container Park will open soon, and farther down the street the old Ferguson Motel is going to be redone with three new taverns. The John E. Carson hotel at Sixth and Fremont is also being renovated. There are still no significant or reliable residential plans on the drawing board, however, so Downtown-based customers are stretched a little thin.
If nothing else, Downtown Grand will up the ante and give everyone a little more choice.