A proposal to build Las Vegas' first shipping container retail and entertainment park won approval Tuesday despite concerns by some that the inward-facing design mimics the troubled Neonopolis project.
The Planning Commission voted 7-0 for two items that would advance Container Park, a centerpiece of the Downtown Project, a $350 million urban renewal program backed by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.
The proposal is scheduled to go to the Las Vegas City Council on Sept. 19.
"I've never been so excited about a project before," said attorney Todd Kessler, who presented the plans to the commission. "It will be an internationally discussed project for a long, long time."
Although Container Park has been in the works for many months, the version Kessler presented was larger and more elaborate than plans submitted in June.
It calls for about 11,000 square feet of retail, 3,200 square feet for food and beverage businesses, office space, a large children's playground in the center and performance space. The project would be located at the intersection of Fremont and Seventh streets.
Also added to the plan since June is a large praying mantis sculpture with flames shooting from the antennae to be built by artists from the Burning Man counterculture festival.
"We've been working on this project a long, long time," Kessler said.
In addition to serving as an attraction to draw foot traffic from the Fremont Street Experience to the Fremont Street Entertainment District, Container Park will be populated by startup businesses funded through the Downtown Project.
Kessler said the idea is to use the park as a place for small-business people to get their start.
Planning Department staff, however, recommended the commission deny the proposal. They objected to fencing around the outside of the project that separated the businesses from the street and gave storefronts an inward-facing focus.
"It is an inward-facing development," said Planning Department director Flinn Fagg, citing the struggles of the similarly designed Neonopolis.
Planning staff also disapproved of the notion of allowing alcohol throughout the park, which has a children's play area as a centerpiece.
Planning Commissioner Ric Truesdell echoed that concern despite ultimately voting for the proposal.
"I wrestle with that," Truesdell said.
Kessler said alcohol would be prohibited in the play area. He also said the fencing was necessary to secure the site.
But he added that if the Downtown Project is successful with Container Park and other plans, fences won't be necessary to keep people safe in the downtown area.
"We believe in three to five years downtown will change so dramatically we won't have the security issues we have today," Kessler said.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0285.