The first day of work at the new Zappos headquarters downtown feels a lot like the start of a semester at school.
Tech employees, the first department to move into the former city hall building, climb the front steps wearing backpacks, dressed casually in T-shirts and shorts. Some glance around in bewilderment as they navigate the renovated campus for the first time.
They ask for directions to the bistro; visitor check-in; their desks.
Security guards wearing neon-yellow polo shirts direct newcomers around the maintenance and construction workers who are still unwrapping furniture and moving earth.
Monday, the initial phase of 200 employees moved into the shoe retailers’ new offices at 400 Stewart Avenue. Over the next several weeks, as many as 2,000 workers will relocate from the company’s Henderson office.
Norbinn Rodrigo, a 36-year-old technical project and business intelligence manager who has worked at the company since 2006, is in the first wave.
On Monday he spent some time at the window of his north-facing Odgen apartment, watching his co-workers trickle into work before following in their footsteps, crossing Las Vegas Boulevard at Stewart Avenue.
His walk takes just a few minutes — one of the main reasons he moved downtown.
Rodrigo, with his wife and two daughters, moved from Southern Highlands in January to be closer to his job and to support Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s revitalization efforts.
The Rodrigos traded a four-bedroom house in the suburbs for a two-bedroom high-rise near the Fremont Experience. The rent is about the same, but other bills are smaller and HOA fees are nonexistent.
Rodrigo and his wife were somewhat skeptical about moving, but figured it couldn’t hurt to try it for a year.
Eight months later, they’re planning to stay five to six years - perhaps until the girls reach high-school age.
“The kids have gotten out a lot more here than they did in Southern Highlands,” Rodrigo said. “They have a lot more fun down here.”
His daughters, ages 7 and 8, participate in Downtown Project Kids activities such as family game night at Container Park and Social Paintbrush art events. The Discovery Children’s Discovery Museum at The Smith Center is also nearby.
When Rodrigo first moved in, his bike was stolen, which made him question the safety of the area. But after a cleanup of the area he attributes to the the police, downtown Rangers and enhanced security, he feels safe.
“After a couple of months, I realized living in a highrise is a lot safer than other places I’ve lived,” he said.
His wife goes out with friends during the day, and he feels comfortable taking his children to Vegas Streats and First Friday at night.
Margaret O’Mara, associate professor of history at University of Washington who has studied tech culture, said more people with young children are choosing to live in cities.
“I think it’s a cultural ripple effect of cities becoming safer or seeming safer,” she said.
In the 1970s or ’80s, families with the means tended to move to the suburbs, away from seedy neighborhoods and close to good schools.
She points to light-hearted, city-based sitcoms “Seinfeld” and “Friends” as signs of the shift in attitudes toward cities in the 1990s. Earlier pop culture depictions, such as the film “Taxi Driver,” portrayed cities as gritty and dangerous.
Today, more people in their 30s and 40s prefer downtown living for its amenities, she said. They grew up during the urban renaissance of the past 15 to 30 years.
Rodrigo said the biggest benefit to living downtown has been the sense of community he’s found.
To his surprise, the scene at the Ogden isn’t just single young people who are a part of the startup business scene, but also retired apartment owners, vacationers and families. He estimates there are about eight other families in the Ogden, with children ranging from babies to teens.
Seeing downtown transform before his eyes has been another highlight. He had read about it in the news, but wanted to participate.
“To see the revitalization first-hand, you feel like you’re a part of it,” he said. “I feel more invested.”
If there’s a drawback to living downtown, Rodrigo said it’s minimal. He misses grilling in his backyard.
Grocery shopping isn’t as daunting aseveryone makes it out to be, he said.
After his short commute on foot, Rodrigo reached the Zappos campus and entered an elevator, where a big screen diplays a game of Angry Birds that passengers can play.
On the fourth floor he found his desk near a window, just past an Elvis statue and a makeshift mimosa bar. (Yes, Zappos IS different).
The bright office space is populated with light-wood desks and electrical cords hanging from the ceiling, ready to power yet-to-be installed computers.
The occupants of the desks have already started personalizing their spaces — lining up Sesame Street stuffed dolls and unpacking Zappos-brand drinking glasses. A chicken mask hangs from one of the coat racks, a horse mask on another.
“I love it,” Rodrigo said, scanning the landscape. “I was already impressed by the old (office), but I’m blown away by this.”
Contact reporter Kristy Totten at Ktotten@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3809.