It was a bad Tuesday in Downtown Las Vegas. The day started with layoffs at the Tony Hsieh-funded Downtown Project, 30 “corporate support” positions eliminated from the payroll as part of a “streamlining” of operations and continued evaluations of investments in terms of ROI (return on investments) and ROC (return on collisions).
That’s the human cost. In Vegas, it stings sharper, conjuring memories of the recent recession and making us ache for those who left homes and jobs to be part of something so promising. It sucks. But the true cost of this week’s layoffs is psychological and far harder to quantify. It’s a realization that the growth and development that has defined Downtown the past two years cannot continue at the same jaw-dropping pace, that community value is tough to measure, that even a pile of $350 million can eventually run out.
Which is not to say that DTP’s funding has run dry. As Hsieh noted in a statement issued Tuesday evening, DTP directly employs more than 300 people, and through investments in small businesses, tech startups, Life Is Beautiful and Turntable Health, it has helped create more than 800 jobs. Just last week DTP opened the Perch, a new restaurant at Container Park, and next week it’s slated to unveil the Market, the long-awaited Downtown grocery store. The Bunkhouse calendar is still booked, and the 11th Street Records shop and studio is moving forward.
But what of projects still far down the pipeline? In the five-year business plan for DTP that Hsieh published this week, Year 2 (2013) was about firing a lot of “bullets,” making investments and seeing which ones stick. Year 3 is focused on turning those that do into “cannonballs” while cutting back elsewhere. Year 4? Streamlining and scaling. By the time Year 5 hits in 2016, he expects DTP to be cash-flow positive and sustainable.
That doesn’t address land parcels sitting empty or projects like the Ferguson yet to really begin, but it does suggest that we can expect more cuts—businesses not deemed worthy of further investment, bullets not chosen to be cannonballs. Is Downtown strong enough to endure? I hope so. But it will take more than Tony Hsieh or DTP or one $350 million kickstart. It will take more entrepreneurs like Michael and Jennifer Cornthwaite and more independent businesses like Insert Coin(s) and Commonwealth, more support from City government and more of us driving Downtown to spend our nights and weekends. Because the more diverse Downtown becomes the more likely it is to survive and thrive—and the less 30 layoffs at DTP will shake us to our core.