The tale of the Fremont East entertainment district is made up of fits and starts and setbacks so far, but recent developments show progress is being made in the form of new businesses getting ready to open their doors.
Two new endeavors -- Vanguard Lounge, a cocktail place, and Maharaja Hookah Cafe -- are aiming for openings on or around Labor Day.
Azul Tequila, another new nightspot with room for live music, dancing and nearly 800 patrons, is almost complete, although an opening date hasn't been set.
"We've always thought that the downtown area has been very vibrant," said Andrew Wheatley, who is opening Vanguard Lounge with his wife, Jennifer.
"I think the economy's back on the rise. We found private funding from an investor and we thought this would be a good time to get in."
It hasn't all been good news. Azul Tequila originally intended to open in May, for example.
And the highest-profile corner in the Fremont East district has a vacant building sitting at Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont Street. There were plans for a Mexican restaurant in the space, but that project has faltered.
The depressed economic climate has been well documented, with foreclosures and unemployment up and housing values and gaming revenue down.
But as of June, visitor volume, average room rate and room occupancy all ticked upward, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The Fremont East district, an area without gaming just east of the Fremont Street Experience, was always intended to draw locals as well as visitors, and has been on a little bit of a roll lately.
A former medical building has been reoccupied as Emergency Arts, a conglomeration of small businesses and nonprofits with a new cafe on the ground floor.
Plans are due soon for the 601 Fremont building, which is intended to be remade into a nightclub.
"It seems like something's starting to happen down here," said Frank Elam, owner and developer of the Azul Tequila building. "Maybe it's just the time."
City incentives have helped.
In February, the City Council temporarily waived a $20,000 liquor license origination fee as an inducement for would-be club owners to start moving in.
Also, a facade improvement program run through the city's Redevelopment Agency offers up to $75,000 to help a business improve its exteriors and signage.
Maharaja, Azul and Vanguard took advantage of the program, which encourages classic Vegas neon.
The hookah lounge, which will offer hookah pipes, coffee and tea but no liquor, went beyond adding a neon sign, although a large chunk of neon is in the works, said co-owner Asif Jah.
Workers have been installing hand-carved wooden frames and doors, imported from Pakistan, on the inside and outside of the building, and Jah expected to spend the week arranging the interior in preparation for a Labor Day opening.
Jah and his partner, Ali Mohammed, who runs the Kabob Korner restaurant across the street from the hookah cafe, expect their building to draw a lot of interest from the end of the Fremont Street Experience. Tourists waiting at the bus stop there won't be able to miss their location. The Deuce double-decker bus moves lots of people to and from the Strip throughout the day and night.
"I think the place will be OK because of the location," Jah said. "Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont Street -- I think it's the best location in town."
Contact reporter Alan Choate at email@example.com or 702-229-6435.