Five Years Later: “Year of Downtown Projects” Continue to Attract Millions to the Heart of the City

Five Years Later: “Year of Downtown Projects” Continue to Attract Millions to the Heart of the City
The year 2012 was widely known as the “Year of Downtown,” marked by the completion of significant projects that have forever changed the downtown Las Vegas skyline and experience: The Mob Museum, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, a new City Hall and the Neon Museum (Pictured: The Mob Museum)

While redevelopment of downtown Las Vegas had been ongoing for more than two decades, the opening of these transformational developments within months of each other gave area revitalization a much needed boost. These catalysts also played a significant role in fueling additional development, including scores of restaurants and bars, and helped to establish the area as the true center of culture for both residents and tourists alike.

Today, five years later, these “Year of Downtown” projects continue to grow their respective operations, celebrate ongoing milestones and collectively help to draw millions of visitors to downtown each year.

The Mob Museum, which opened on February 14, 2012, the 83rd anniversary of the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, has welcomed more than 1.3 million visitors from 36 countries, added more than 2,000 new artifacts and hosted 57 weddings. The Museum has garnered several significant awards, including landing on TripAdvisor’s list of “Top 25 Museums;” USA Today’s “12 Can’t Miss Museum Exhibits;” and Travel + Leisure Magazine’s “Best Places to Travel in 2015,” among many others.

While the city of Las Vegas officially began transitioning into its new 310,000-square-foot city hall in February 2012, the building was officially dedicated on March 5, 2012 with a spectacular display of its signature LED lights that front the building. Today, the iconic building is more than just the operational home of the city of Las Vegas. It hosts scores of public events, lectures, town halls and art shows; and it serves as a satellite campus for the College of Southern Nevada where select night classes are offered.

That same week, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts opened on March 10, 2012 to much fanfare and a sold-out audience packed with city leaders, influencers and celebrities. Since then, The Smith Center has sold more than 2 million tickets to various productions and hosted more than 1,900 performances, nearly 350,000 local students and teachers, and 47 weddings. The Smith Center is widely lauded for elevating the quality of culture and the performing arts in Las Vegas, thanks to its ability to host productions of all sizes, including Broadway shows that previously had no place in Las Vegas capable of supporting their production needs. Plus, The Smith Center is the resident home of the city’s two beloved and long-time performing arts groups, Nevada Ballet Theatre and the Las Vegas Philharmonic.

After collecting historical neon signs from the city’s storied casinos and venues since 1996, the Neon Museum finally found a permanent home on Las Vegas Boulevard North, with a restored lobby shell from the defunct La Concha Motel serving as the visitor’s center. This truly unique museum opened on October 27, 2012. Since then, the Neon Museum has welcomed nearly 100,000 visitors and significantly grown its retail offerings by partnering with Marshall Retail Group to offer Neon Museum merchandise in 16 locations throughout the city. The Museum’s hallmark Neon Boneyard that showcases its signs has been the site of scores of high-profile photo shoots for fashion magazines such as French Vogue and GQ, as well as high-profile musicians like The Killers, Tiesto and Carrie Underwood. The Boneyard also continues to be a popular spot for brides, engaged couples and tourists from all over the world seeking the ultimate vintage Vegas backdrop for their photos. The Neon Museum recently acquired land adjacent to the Boneyard to expand its educational and special event space and to showcase additional signs that are currently in storage.

“The Year of Downtown was a remarkable period of our urban core’s ongoing revitalization,” said Mayor Carolyn G. Goodman, city of Las Vegas. “It was the culmination of years of work by both public and private entities and marked the beginning of a new and historical era for the heart of our city. We continue to be thrilled with the growth and enduring appeal of all these projects that serve as landmarks and attractions of significance for both tourists and residents.”

Downtown Today

Downtown redevelopment has been a focus of the city of Las Vegas Economic and Urban Development Department for decades, with the year 2016 marked by significant forward momentum including the expansion of the Las Vegas Medical District (LVMD) and a new $50+ million Federal Justice Tower. Downtown also welcomed the opening of Eclipse Theatres, a 72,000-square-foot, three-level, multi-entertainment complex offering eight luxury movie theaters, an ultra-lounge and two restaurants. The Promenade at Juhl, encompassing 20,000 square feet of retail space on the ground level of this downtown residential neighborhood now also breathes new life into the city’s urban area.

It is full speed ahead for the Las Vegas Medical District, located between I-15 and Rancho Drive near Charleston Boulevard. Business and government leaders are expanding the district from its current 200 acres to at least 680 acres, allowing for additional health-care services and opportunities. The centerpiece of this expanded district is the 260,000-square-foot UNLV School of Medicine, which will include an educational building and library. The school was granted preliminary accreditation in late 2016 and has begun accepting students for its July 2017 charter class.

According to Scott Adams, Las Vegas deputy city manager, perhaps no single project has greater impact on downtown than the LVMD, now in its infancy but slated to grow exponentially in 2017. The LVMD is expected to have by 2030 an economic impact of $2.42 billion, generate more than 16,000 jobs and create state general fund revenues of more than $121 million, according to Tripp Umbach, a national economic consulting firm.

“The growth of the medical industry is key to southern Nevada’s economic diversification strategy, and the medical district will help attract new, high-paying employers to the region as well as advance a higher quality of life,” said Adams. “Further development of the LVMD will provide jobs, bolster the health of southern Nevadans and stimulate additional development in and around downtown Las Vegas.”

The year 2016 was also significant for the completion and adoption of the city’s first Downtown Master Plan in 16 years. The plan, created by a multi-disciplinary team with significant community input, will guide downtown development for the next 30 years. It includes strategies to increase residential density, grow and diversify the daytime economy, establish and enhance Centers of Excellence such as the emerging Medical District and Arts District, develop a center of technology, encourage promotion of business-driven, public-private partnerships, and improve connectivity and mobility via a possible downtown circulator or light-rail system.

While the new was introduced, the old was preserved. The multimillion-dollar renovation, upgrade and preservation by the city of Las Vegas on the Historic Westside School turned its interior into modern office and retail space for businesses and nonprofits, while the exterior was carefully restored. This was made possible through gap financing obtained by the city and supplied through a federally funded program called New Markets Tax Credits. This same supplemental financing program is making construction of a new home for the Nevada Supreme and Appellate courts a reality.

Symphony Park, a city of Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency-managed development, is also seeing new life. The city issued tax-exempt bonds to assist with funding a new 1,000-space parking garage in Symphony Park, which will serve as an added incentive for prospective developers. With philanthropy in mind, the city provided matching monies for initial fundraising efforts for an art museum at Symphony Park.

In addition, Newland Communities announced plans to develop 300 upscale apartments on a section of the 61-acre downtown development.

Other, much-need residential developments are also making headway in downtown Las Vegas. In 2016, more than 1,635 residential units were proposed or began construction. Major projects include the Fremont9, offering 231 units.

In 18b, The Las Vegas Arts District, Big Block partners is planning to offer 48 one- and two-bedroom units in summer/fall 2017; the “WE” downtown community by Portfolios PP, LLC, is developing a 48-unit, micro-housing project; The Royale by Casino Coolidge LLC is a proposed 17-story, mixed-use apartment/hotel (Staybridge Suites) project with construction expected to begin in spring 2017; and Oakbrook Realty is in the planning stages for two towers encompassing 458 apartments, including one tower dedicated to senior housing.

Residential projects for the Las Vegas Medical District are also being planned with an estimated 200 units projected for the first phase.

Focusing not only on development, but on redevelopment as well, the city of Las Vegas worked to reduce urban blight by providing a total of $375,000 in Visual Improvement Program monies, which resulted in more than $4 million in private investments. These grants helped urban businesses revitalize dilapidated building facades, as well as bring them up to code. A similar business incentive program designed to attract major office tenants to the downtown area soon will be started.

For more information about downtown Las Vegas’ successful economic development efforts, visit