ML - Vegas Magazine

2013 - Issue 5 - September

Vegas Magazine - Niche Media - There is a place beyond the crowds, beyond the ropes, where dreams are realized and success is celebrated. You are invited.

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Downtown in early summer 1989. strange block, with a check-cashing place, a bailbond place, and a cigar store. But I helped the bail-bond guy put up his NO PARKING signs in the lot behind our shops. Everybody wants everybody else to be successful." Although he has no ties to Hsieh and his Downtown Project, Balikian believes they "have the same ambitions in mind." There is already talk of Sweet Spot opening a second location at the container park that Downtown Project is developing. It's all moving so fast that people you wouldn't expect to see here are drawn to the neighborhood. Juliana Goldberg and Paula McCartney are suburban ladies with photo careers: Goldberg does boudoir photography; McCartney specializes in portraits of people and their pets. They are decidedly not hipsters. Yet they too have found a place in Downtown Vegas. They've rented a space in the Arts District, named it 3rd Street Studio LV, and use it for their photo shoots and as a rental space. During a recent First Friday, the space was used by an artist who wanted to show his work. Looking across the street at a homeless guy pushing a shopping cart, I can't figure out how they wound up here and how they feel secure. "We like being downtown," McCartney says. "It's fun. It's where things are happening." These are not cool kids looking for grit. But Downtown Vegas—once you step away from the Fremont Street strip—still has a seedy, down-atthe-heels edge, so different from Henderson and Summerlin, where the two women live and had long worked. Doesn't the area sometimes seem a little rough? "It's comfortable and friendly," says Goldberg. "People have pride here." I leave there wondering whether Downtown Vegas has jumped the shark or if it really is blowing up. Maybe both. S pend some time here and it's easy to believe that the ideas and endeavors are small. There's Emergency Arts, of course, a warren of indie businesses and galleries, plus a coffeehouse. Then there are the cool little drinking spots and restaurants, like Commonwealth, with its secret bar in back, and La Comida, the thought-out Mexican entry from Michael Morton (of N9NE Group fame) with financial backing from Tony Hsieh. You see independent retailers such as Coterie, a really cool clothing store inside what was once a checkcashing joint (it retains the old sign outside as proof of its bona fides, although it's now upside down). But some of these operations express ambitions beyond their façades and their sales, ambitions that jibe with Hsieh's utopian vision and catchy, almost cultish, mantra about community building. Seth Schorr jokes that he plans on marketing Downtown Cool Aide, but people who buy into Hsieh's ideas are serious about their inclusionary goals. At Coterie, for example, the first of Hsieh's Downtown investments, enlightened and trippy owner Sarah Nisperos runs more than a store. When I see a pair of security guards standing near the entrance, I comment that she must have precious cargo here. She laughs and says they're just there to get out of the heat. Then, amid her $200 jeans and carefully chosen tops, she tells me she purposely designed the place to have free Wi-Fi, lots of space for sitting, and a bar in back. "I want it to be a coworking spot," she says. "People come in, eat their lunch, and hang out around the ottoman. I never understood stores that kick people out after they finish shopping." Coterie offers some of what Hsieh looks for in his projects. Don Welch, who oversees small- "WE'RE HOPING TO ACCOMPLISH IN FIVE YEARS WHAT NORMALLY TAKES 15 OR 20."—TONY HSIEH business investments for Hsieh, explains that where they put their money needs to build community and be sustainable; it needs to be unique or outstanding and be run with passion; and it needs to be "story worthy." That phrase is heard a lot downtown, and it means the endeavor must have a narrative that gets people talking and inspires them. "We try not to say what we need," Welch says. "Instead, we look for people, and when they seem right, we do it." He has fielded 2,000 project submissions, put up funding for 20 of them, and has 40 more in the works. Welch, who left a lucrative job at Citibank to work for Hsieh, adds, "Some people think we're taking over Downtown. But we're investing in people with vision. The small-business owners have their businesses." Those businesses are split 50-50, with the owners' own investment treated exactly the same as Downtown Project's. "Our lawyers hate it," he says. But Downtown Project's investment involves far more than money: It offers counseling and support in almost every arena, from banking to human resources. Ask Hsieh about his endgame in all of this and he smiles beatifically. "I don't know if there is an endgame," he says. "We're hoping to accomplish in five years what normally takes 15 or 20. Five years from now, people will come down here, look around, and wonder how it all happened." V VEGASMAGAZINE.COM 123 118-123–V_FEAT_Downtown_Sept13.indd 123 8/7/13 4:07 PM

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