Downtown Las Vegas has seen great change over the last decade, and while much of the buzz has focused on entertainment and cultural development along Fremont East and in the Arts District, the city’s original epicenter has been evolving, too. And no single developer has made a bigger impact on the Downtown casino district in recent years than Derek Stevens.
The Michigan transplant made his first move in Las Vegas in 2006, when his company acquired a 50 percent stake in the historic Golden Gate casino, which it now owns outright. In 2011 he purchased the dilapidated Fitzgeralds farther east on Fremont Street and a year later rechristened it as the D, a lively party spot with some Detroit flavor.
“I can’t believe that was 10 years ago, and the D was five. Time flies,” Stevens says inside Andiamo, the D’s acclaimed Italian steakhouse. How has he generated the fun energy that permeates his casino floor? “One great advantage is, we don’t have a lot of committees. We hang out at the Long Bar and come up with ideas and try a lot of different things, and most of them don’t work,” he laughs. “But the ones that do, we run with.”
Stevens is just getting started. His outdoor Downtown Las Vegas Events Center is entering its third year, having hosted everything from electronic dance music events to boxing matches. On Sunday, it’ll be the site of one of the largest Super Bowl parties in Las Vegas, with the space becoming a replica football field lined with food trucks.
Next up: a major expansion of the Golden Gate’s casino space; construction just began last week and should wrap in August. After that comes Stevens’ biggest project yet: Building a Downtown casino resort from the ground up in the city block encompassing the Las Vegas Club, at Fremont and Main.
“We just finished our 46th design meeting, with many more to go,” he says. “This is a really interesting and fun project, because every time we have a meeting and it gets molded in one direction, something else doesn’t fit, so we keep making many small adjustments. We’re moving forward at a pretty good clip right now.”
It’s easy for Stevens to keep pushing ahead, since he’s having as much fun as his customers. “When you see Downtown going through this renaissance, it’s important to recognize there are a lot of people involved. There’s a lot of economic momentum right now, and it’s been a lot of fun to be a part of.”