Six months after City of Las Vegas employees vacated, the former City Hall building downtown is finally starting to look like a construction site.
Contractors working for online retailer Zappos, which plans to move into the building next year, recently started tearing out walls and doing other demolition work aimed at upgrading the 40-year-old structure into a modern office building.
The smashing, tearing and banging comes after several months during which little work was apparent from the outside, although inside workers were removing hazardous materials, such as asbestos.
"All of that (work) was super contained," said Zach Ware, a Zappos employee who is helping to oversee the conversion project. "For obvious reasons, we didn't want asbestos in the air. Really, nothing did happen until that was finished."
The asbestos is gone and as many as 70 workers will be spending the better part of the next three months doing demolition.
It's the first visible step in converting a building configured for tightly organized, hierarchical government workers into a flexible, free-flowing space that will accommodate everything from IT support workers and call center employees to creative staff.
Instead of offices sized according to the occupant's spot on the organizational chart and lit by fluorescent lights, the new space will be wide open, naturally lit with widely distributed power and data outlets hanging from the ceiling.
"We don't want to have anything that stops an employee from independently rearranging the office," Ware said.
The transformation of the former City Hall is the result of a three-way agreement between the city of Las Vegas, developer Andrew Donner's Resort Gaming Group and Zappos.
Under the deal, Donner's company purchased the building from the city for $18 million, along with an option for some city-owned land across Las Vegas Boulevard, and is leasing it to Zappos for a corporate headquarters.
The city agreed to finance the purchase by receiving about $3 million up front and the remainder in subsequent years. Zappos, which is owned by online retail behemoth Amazon, has already agreed to a 15-year lease.
The deal will enable Zappos to move as many as 2,000 employees from its current location in Henderson to downtown Las Vegas.
City officials justified selling the property below appraised value and offering favorable financing terms by pointing out the project and the arrival of the workforce will have an economic impact of $273.4 million downtown.
It's a complement to Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh's Downtown Project, an urban renewal project in which Hsieh has dedicated about $350 million to fund startup businesses, arts and cultural initiatives.
Hsieh's influence hangs over the entire City Hall project, including the decision to name the building after its address, 400 Stewart Avenue, rather than after a person or some other cultural reference.
"Every time I go to a corporate campus and they have funny names for the buildings I don't know where I am," Ware said, describing the reasoning behind the uninspired title.
Zappos is expected to move into the building late next year, and Randy Corwin, project superintendent for Penta Building Group, says the plan remains on schedule.
The demolition portion of the project is expected to take six to 10 weeks. Corwin said a typical demolition pace would require that much time just for the 10-story tower, but the timeline he's using covers the entire site.
Workers are hitting nearly every floor in the building, including the basement, simultaneously to stay on schedule.
"That is a real aggressive program," Corwin said.
For the time being, workers will be removing up to 280 cubic yards of material daily, with only about 25 percent going to the landfill and the rest being recycled, to prepare for the construction phase.
In addition to removing interior walls, they'll remove the plaster facade from the open-air walkways that encircle the interior plaza, which will become a welcome area for visitors.
In order to increase interaction between employees and guests, the number of entrances will be reduced from 19 to three. A wall will separate the west side of the plaza from Fourth Street to shield the space from the din of traffic.
Zappos employees will work in the middle of the structure, and windowed "bubbles" on each floor will be common space workers can do with as they please.
"We are going to leave it up to each floor to accessorize each bubble," said Patrick Olson, campus development coordinator for Zappos. "We're hoping people will move between floors to use what each floor has."
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at email@example.com or 702-383-0285.