Robin Leach

Alexandra Epstein: ‘The Year of Downtown’ with renovations, new businesses

Alexandra Epstein, El Cortez executive manager, sits inside “Hint Suite,” one of the suites that was redesigned for the Design a Suite Downtown competition at the El Cortez on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011.
Photo: Leila Navidi
By Alexandra Epstein

Symphony Park in Downtown Las Vegas

First Friday's First Vegas Burn!

Project Dinner Table: El Cortez Walkway and Emergency Arts

While Robin Leach takes his traditional summer vacation under the Tuscan sun in Italy, many of our Strip and Las Vegas personalities have stepped forward in his absence to pen their own words of wisdom. Our thanks to them all. We continue with the woman who sits at the center of everything new downtown: Alexandra Epstein, executive vice president of the El Cortez.

By Alexandra Epstein

Whether talking about new beacons of culture, such as the incredible Smith Center for the Performing Arts and the Mob Museum, the vibrant Fremont East Entertainment District, the flood of new business small and large (Hello, Zappos!) or the big money renovations at downtown’s most storied casinos, it’s no wonder many are calling 2012 “The Year of Downtown.”

Downtown’s recent spotlight is no coincidence but a collective effort resulting from years of hard work and commitment to an idea. We embrace a tangible sense of community that has given us a “let’s take on the world” mentality.

One example of our strong community bond is Downtown Cares, a project organized by El Cortez and Moonridge Group involving a day of service and volunteerism. Our event last November saw more than 270 volunteers gathering to renovate Robert Gordon Plaza, a low-income senior housing center. In total, we provided more than $70,000 of in-kind labor and donations. We are now organizing semi-annual service days -- with two planned for 2012 -- and asking partners to get involved.

Our community continues to expand, and with each opening, the neighborhood gets better. Pop Up Pizza recently opened at the Plaza and offers delicious slices. Red Velvet Cafe has opened an outpost at Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, and I suggest you enjoy your meal in downtown’s newest green spot, Symphony Park. And be sure to keep an eye out for these new businesses set to open in the next several months: EAT, Park, Radio City Pizza, Triple B, Fremont Country Club and more.

The Neon Museum, which has been giving scheduled tours of its Neon Boneyard for years, will soon complete construction on its La Concha visitor’s center and allow for tours of the historic neon signs. Emergency Arts, the 40-tenant creative collective on 6th and Fremont, continues to provide a gathering spot for some of Las Vegas’ brightest minds.

It also paved the way for a new multi-use space, Art Square, which is in the heart of the Arts District and features 16 creative and professional spaces, including Art Square Theater, Artifice Bar & Lounge, First Street Gallery, Josephine Skaught Salon and the First Street ArtGarden.

Another exciting journey continues at Lied Discovery Children’s Museum as it readies for its move in early 2013 to Symphony Park. Upon moving, the museum will become Discovery Children’s Museum. On the heels of the Sands Foundation’s $1 million gift, there is buzz of another large donation to help close the museum’s capital campaign.

Downtown is making additional waves with a constant lineup of events. First Friday brings nearly 20,000 people downtown every month. Vegas StrEATs, presented by El Cortez, Insert Coin(s) and Slidin’ Thru, is an exciting monthly food truck, art and music festival at El Cortez on the second Saturday of every month. And Downtown 3rd hosts an artisanal farmers market with offerings from some of our best local food purveyors every Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

In October, downtown will host the inaugural Vegas Glow Run, when more than 10,000 runners dressed in illuminated costumes are expected to hit the streets, and the next month will see Project Dinner Table, the brainchild of downtown dynamo Gina Gavan, return downtown at the Smith Center on Nov. 11.

The faster downtown moves forward, the more it becomes important to celebrate the heritage and people who made Las Vegas a truly global city. That is why various community members, including Barbara Molasky, Sen. Dick Bryan, Fred Gibson Jr., Miles Dickson and I will host the Downtown Reunion this fall.

Additionally, a series of unique experiences will be hosted throughout the year to encourage the public to rediscover downtown. The “Rediscover Downtown” campaign was recently launched by Downtown Las Vegas Alliance, who also plans to organize a “Rediscover Downtown Day” on Oct. 13.

There are so many wonderful things happening downtown that I can barely contain my excitement. We are blessed with brilliant and creative business people who have dedicated their time and efforts to building something that will change the landscape of this city. What I’ve discussed here barely scratches the surface of downtown’s activity, and I encourage all those who read this to keep a close watch on the success of downtown.

Our thanks to Alexandra for her insights into the growth downtown that’s changing the landscape of our city. Be sure to check out our other guest columns today from reality TV star Laura Croft and Mirage headliner ventriloquist Terry Fator and return Tuesday for Bettie Page fashion queen Tatayana, celebrity chef Kerry Simon and Flamingo headliner magician Nathan Burton.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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