Then and Now: A Look at the Transformation of Downtown Las Vegas

Then and Now: A Look at the Transformation of Downtown Las Vegas

Then and Now: A Look at the Transformation of Downtown Las Vegas

Before the flashing neon and mega-resorts lined the Las Vegas Strip, Downtown Las Vegas was where it all started. Some of the most iconic Las Vegas buildings, casinos, bars, and restaurants can be found downtown and maintain that vintage Vegas charm that put Sin City on the map. Downtown Las Vegas has since undergone several revitalization efforts, making it a buzzing center of activity for residents, businesses, and tourists alike.

Here’s a look back at its incredible transformation throughout the last 25 years and what new developments are on the horizon.


1995 – Fremont Street Experience Opens

One of the most notable milestones for Downtown Las Vegas was the opening of Fremont Street Experience in 1995. Fremont Street is right in the heart of downtown and is home to many of the downtown casinos, entertainment venues, and attractions. Fremont Street Experience was developed to provide a fun and safe environment for visitors to enjoy everything downtown has to offer, including a world-famous zipline, the Viva Vision light show canopy, and free live entertainment.

1998 – Las Vegas Arts District is Formed

Local artists and independent business owners wanted to create an area of Las Vegas that would encourage a more creative side of the city. The Las Vegas Arts District was formed in 1998 to nurture local artists and give them a place to spark a cultural revival in a part of town that had been neglected for decades. The Arts District stretches over 18 blocks in Downtown Las Vegas, earning it the nickname of 18b, and is home to several art galleries, studios, vintage clothing boutiques, theaters, and restaurants.

2007 – Debut of the Fremont East Entertainment District

The development of the Fremont East Entertainment District was another major step that contributed to the transformation of the Downtown Las Vegas area. Just adjacent to Fremont Street Experience, this area of downtown is where you can find trendy locally-owned restaurants, bars offering craft beers and cocktails, intimate entertainment venues, the city’s best artisan food trucks, and all the favorite local hangouts. It brought a different dynamic to downtown that strayed from the typical gambling scene you’d expect from the Fremont area.

2012 – Founding of the Downtown Project

Recognizing that Downtown Las Vegas was on the verge of a major shift, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, decided to jump on the opportunity to help sway this change in the right direction with the creation of the Downtown Project. The idea behind this initiative was to accelerate the development of Vegas’ urban core with investment projects, business incentives, a culture of innovation, and giving the local community a voice. In addition to moving Zappos headquarters downtown, large investments were made towards real estate development, tech startups, promoting more arts and culture, and the redevelopment of existing structures.

2013 – Downtown Hosts the First Life is Beautiful Music Festival

As a direct result of the Downtown Project’s efforts, Downtown Las Vegas hosted the very first Life is Beautiful Music & Art Festival in 2013. The three-day music festival marked a new avenue of change for downtown and drew festival-goers from around the country to a generally unknown part of the city. In addition to musical performances, street artists peppered urban structures with stunning murals, abandoned buildings were transformed into pop-up art galleries and venues, and the downtown area was now recognized as the cultural hub of Las Vegas.

2013 – Downtown Container Park Opens

Made up of repurposed shipping containers and locally-manufactured cube structures, Downtown Container Park was a new concept that offered a little bit of everything to locals and their families, as well as Las Vegas visitors. Locally-owned boutique shops, restaurants, galleries, and specialty stores quickly filled the vacancies, making Container Park the new favorite stop in downtown. In addition to the vendors, the park offers an open-air entertainment space that hosts live shows and movie nights, a huge playground with a treehouse and 33-foot slide for the kids, and a 44-foot fire-spitting praying mantis installation that welcomes visitors at the main entrance. With Downtown Container Park opening, Las Vegas now had a place to go to eat, shop, and play right in the heart of the community.


2020-2021 – Symphony Park Expansion

Already home to the Smith Center for Performing Arts and the Discovery Children’s Museum, Symphony Park is growing to include two luxury apartment buildings, a Marriott Hotel for convention-goers, more than 60,000 square feet of retail space, new medical offices, and a new complex for the Nevada Art Museum. Construction is currently underway and is expected to continue through the end of 2021 on some projects. Symphony Park is working with other downtown entities to improve the walkability of the area and the overall presence of art in Las Vegas.

2020 – Expo at World Market Center

Scheduled to open in June 2020, a new convention center is wrapping up in Downtown Las Vegas. The exhibition center will offer 315,00 square feet of convention space with two separate halls that are perfect for corporate events or trade shows. The Expo is already booked for this year’s Las Vegas Market Gift and Home Decor Show and will show off its new remodel for the first time with this debut event.

2020 – Circa Resort & Casino Scheduled to Open

Fremont Street Experience is also undergoing new developments with its newest project, Circa Resort & Casino. Standing where the Las Vegas Club once operated, the newest addition to the area will offer 777 rooms, the largest sports book in Las Vegas, and a huge multi-tiered pool amphitheater. Circa is just another example of the new interest in downtown and how the area offers modern amenities coupled with old Vegas glamour. The resort is expected to open its doors in late 2020.

2020 – Expansion of the Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino

Fast forward to Downtown Las Vegas today, and you’ll see a bustling side of town that more and more people are choosing to visit. In response to the growing interest in the area, particularly with younger generations, Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino is expanding its property to offer a more boutique hotel experience for the modern traveler. The new tower will add 495 rooms to the hotel that feature contemporary industrial designs, ornate fixtures, and structural elements that are more in line with downtown’s artistic resurgence. A state-of-the-art fitness center is also in the works with this latest expansion and is expected to wrap up mid-2020.

2020-2021 – New Residential Developments in Downtown

In addition to hotel expansions and new casino construction in the area, locals are looking to downtown as the new place to live. Close to restaurants, bars, shopping, arts, and entertainment, downtown is the ideal location for young professionals and those moving to Las Vegas from other metropolitan areas. A project is in the works at Symphony Park to build two new mixed-use apartments that will also include retail space and luxury amenities. Fremont East District is also offering more residential space by converting old motels, including the Safari Motel, into sleek studio apartments.

Downtown Las Vegas has come a long way since being dismissed as a fading piece of history. In fact, today it’s known as the trendy new place to live, work, shop, and play. Downtown Container Park offers the best restaurants, boutique shops, and community events, as downtown continues to evolve as the cultural center of Las Vegas. If you’re in the area, be sure to check out Container Park for an authentic downtown Las Vegas experience!

This article is written by guest blogger John Goostree. John regularly writes for the Downtown Grand Blog about topics related to Downtown Las Vegas