Las Vegas’ Downtown Project & Tony Hsieh

I admire rich people who do something creative with their money instead of just buying more stuff.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappo, lives in Las Vegas and brought his company there, then started what’s known as the Downtown Project, which uses $350 million of his own money to revitalize what was the town’s main street before The Strip — this roughly in the 1930s, I’m told.

I was just in Las Vegas briefly and stumbled upon this project on Fremont Street. What I saw amounts to transforming the town’s first motels, which had become hooker and parolee hangouts, into small mini malls, keeping the motels’ structures and improving the signs, and renting the rooms to microentrepreneurs with business ideas: photo galleries, sound studios, pottery, cafes, vegan foods, etc.

Added to that are Burning Man art installations.

I’m reading that this project has been underway for some time. More was expected by now.

Nevertheless it is beginning to bear fruit, and what I saw looked fantastic. The Ferguson Motel is now one such mall, with a cafe dug out of the patio, a restaurant at street level, and a dozen or so small businesses in what used to be motel rooms.

Of course, several motels are boarded and fenced up and waiting their own transformation, I suspect.

But the whole thing is beyond cool and creative. Nothing to do with gambling, either.

Hsieh, by the way, lives in a trailer park behind one of these motels, that is packed with tiny houses and Airstream trailers (Those who know me will know I believe Airstreams are the coolest vehicles ever made and remember that among the first stories I ever did as a journalist were those I wrote about the Wally Byam Caravan Club International’s annual Airstream convention in Boise, Idaho in 1986, while I was an intern at the Idaho Statesman that summer.)

Anyway, here are some of the shots I took while I was there.

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