Downtown Las Vegas regeneration continues

Thirty-six percent of recent tourists said they visited downtown Las Vegas, as Fremont Street reasserts itself. (Image:

The Las Vegas downtown rebirth is continuing, as Fremont Street’s casinos experienced their second consecutive annual increase in revenue, according to figures released this week.

Gaming revenues rose a slim but encouraging 0.83 percent for the 2014 fiscal year, and by a more dynamic 3.1 percent in the fiscal year ending 2015.

Meanwhile, 36 percent of visitors said they visited Sin City’s downtown area, an increase of 6 percent from the year before.

This suggests that Las Vegas’ diversification and regeneration projects, implemented during the economic downturn, are working.

Downtown, as the choice destination for typically more blue collar tourists, was deeply affected by the recession. Tightened purse strings meant visitors stayed at home, and after 25 years of phenomenal growth for the city as a whole, the gamblers suddenly largely dried up. Vegas, and downtown in particular, was no longer immune to recession.

Back from the Brink

Downtown’s downturn actually began before the recession of 2007.

In 1993, the opening of the Luxor, Treasure Island, and MGM Grand meant that many of the tourists who would have stayed on Fremont Street began to go elsewhere. The three new properties all offered affordable versions of the Las Vegas resort experience, and many who had been unable to pony up for a Strip view before now anxiously got on board.

The expansion of tribal casino gaming in California in the early noughties further added to downtown’s woes.

“It makes sense because a lot of folks who were going downtown were the drive-up customers who were then attracted to the tribal casinos in Southern California,” noted David Schwartz, director of the UNLV gaming center, to Vegas Inc this week.

“Those casinos weren’t really competing with the Bellagio, necessarily, they were competing with downtown casinos to some extent.”

Hipsters Move In

When the Strip properties slashed their prices in response to the recession, downtown did too, in an effort to fill rooms at any cost. But now, the Strip properties, buoyed by financial recovery, are beginning to raise their room rates, allowing downtown to once again assert itself as the affordable Vegas experience.

And while the area surrounding Fremont Street was once rough around the edges, it’s now slowly emerging as a hub of art and culture. The tawdry pawnbrokers of old have been replaced with galleries and vintage clothing shops, as well bars, clubs, and restaurants, attracting a vibrant hipster scene. Meanwhile, non-gaming attractions, such as Container Park and Slotzilla, are attracting the hordes.

“We are also benefiting from significant growth in visitation to downtown Las Vegas,” said Kevin Smith, CEO of Boyd Gaming, which owns three downtown properties. “2015 has been a great year for downtown and Fremont Street, as ongoing reinvestments and improvements in the area continue to draw more visitors.”