The first wave of urban redevelopment is sparked by the entrepreneurs, the mom and pops and the startups.
Then the big names come calling.
The block of Fremont Street between Las Vegas Boulevard and Sixth Street, once pockmarked with vacant, run-down buildings, has over the last few years been slowly filling with bars and lounges. Progress on the block this year has charged ahead, every month bringing announcements of new developments.
In the last week alone, two new projects were unveiled. Vegas Seven publisher Ryan Doherty is planning to open a beer garden and restaurant called Park on Fremont on the northeast corner of Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard, a space most recently occupied by Maharaja Hookah Cafe.
Doherty and business partners Michael Parks and Kenna Warner are also building another East Fremont bar, Commonwealth, at the other end of the block on Fremont and Sixth streets.
"There was no plan for a second bar," Doherty said. "That was just a fluke."
Doherty learned that Maharaja's owner was moving back to Pakistan and looking for someone to take over his lease. Doherty was concerned after hearing rumors that a major restaurant chain was looking at the space, and so he jumped at the chance to open a bar and restaurant, serving sandwiches and burgers, with an outdoor beer garden sprawling across the attached parking lot.
"We decided on a restaurant because there's not enough places to eat downtown," he said.
At least not east of Las Vegas Boulevard.
Doherty will open Commonwealth in September and Park on Fremont - the name comes from a sign that will say, simply, "Park," in the parking lot - in winter.
Doherty is not the only well-connected businessman venturing downtown this year. N9NE Group creator Michael Morton, who has spearheaded projects like Moon and Rain nightclubs at the Palms and La Cave restaurant at Wynn Las Vegas, on Monday announced plans to open a Mexican restaurant at 106 Sixth St.
The nearly 3,000-square-foot building once served as a laundry facility for the El Cortez, but has been vacant for years. Morton has had his eye on downtown for months, having moved his offices to the Arts Factory more than a year ago. When Jonathan Jossel, director of Las Vegas properties for Tamares Real Estate, showed the restaurateur the Sixth Street parcel, Morton knew he had found the right space for his next project.
"Our first venues were downtown in Chicago, in a neighborhood that was on the verge of a rebirth," said Morton, son of Morton's steakhouse founder Arnie Morton. "It just feels so similar to here. It's the same vibe that downtown Las Vegas has right now."
Morton is leasing the last of Tamares' entertainment district parcels. The company, which owns the Plaza and Las Vegas Club downtown, is also landlord to Don't Tell Mama, Beauty Bar, Commonwealth and Le Thai.
Morton expects to invest between $1.5 million and $2 million renovating the old building and designing his as-yet-unnamed restaurant, which is scheduled to open by March 2013.
"The big deal here is this is being done by a corporation that has a very successful track record," said "Downtown" Steve Franklin, a downtown resident and Realtor. "It's interesting to see that we are at a turning point now where corporations are coming down, looking at Fremont Street and saying, 'This is a place we want to be,' for the first time in decades."
Contact reporter Caitlin McGarry at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5273.