The neon lights of the downtown casinos aren't the only things buzzing along the Fremont Street Experience. Neonopolis, 450 Fremont St., is beginning to generate the buzz that developer Rohit Joshi has been seeking for years.
"No one could be on the second floor for the longest time," Joshi said, citing several businesses on that level that folded in the past. "We opened Drink and Drag there in April. They have celebrity drag queen servers, and that's a buzz. They're creating the buzz that downtown needed."
Joshi purchased Neonopolis in 2006 with a vision to transform the former shopping mall and movie theater into something that would appeal to all ages. His vision is starting to take shape with the opening of businesses such as Drink and Drag, Heart Attack Grill and Luna Rossa Ristorante.
But Joshi hopes to do more than just land tenants in the once-deserted facility. He aims to fill some of the voids downtown, such as offering affordable restaurant options, a nightclub and the types of businesses that cater to a broad spectrum of people.
"You need experience and events," Joshi said. "People want an experience that stays in their minds forever. I think, with Drink and Drag, I brought in a great tenant for that. You have the fine arts museum on the second floor, which is more event-driven. There are three empty spaces (on the second level) facing Fremont Street. I want to do something more dining-related ... and I want to (offer) more lunch experiences. You've got to create those things on the second level."
Among Joshi's plans for new tenants include Denny's on the first floor and a nightclub on the third, hoping both businesses open by the end of 2012. A microbrewery and bar, a tattoo shop and various restaurants in the food court are also scheduled to open within a year.
Joshi believes combining three specific aspects is the key to turning Neonopolis into the entertainment venue it was initially intended to be.
"I'm learning from experts how you create these venues for food, liquor and nightlife or to combine them in different ways," Joshi said. "That combination of pillars is the basis of this building."
He understands the importance in providing these types of venues, especially with Zappos relocating just a few blocks away later this year. Offering dining options downtown, specifically for the lunchtime crowds, is something he wants to establish as more people move into the area.
Joshi isn't the only one who recognizes the impact of downtown's revitalization. Howard Perlman, president of Environmental Design Group, whose offices are in Neonopolis, said the changes happening downtown are playing a role in the success of businesses coming to the area.
"I think downtown has evolved naturally," Perlman said. "You've got these young entrepreneurs who understand their clientele because they are (like) their clientele. It started with bars, and it's only a matter of time before people live here and start shopping here."
The Neonopolis developer, however, is cautious. "I'm still skeptical about downtown's success, as I should be," Joshi said. "This has to be a collective effort. We have to do things that are good for the community as a whole. (Neonopolis) is not just for hipsters, not just for tourists, not just for locals. It's for everyone."
Tenants seem to agree. Mike Griesgraber, Southern Nevada Museum of Fine Art's design curator, said he is seeing Neonopolis progress in terms of popularity with visitors and those interested in opening businesses.
"The museum was kind of a lonely stand for a while, but I think Neonopolis now is adding a lot more energy to tenants," Griesgraber said. "The town is split between tourists and residents who usually stay in their communities. I think that's why you need things downtown that people are attracted to, and that's happening here."
Despite struggles with finances, operations and maintaining tenants in the past, Joshi believes that the Neonopolis people hoped for is starting to come to fruition.
"We've found ourselves now," Joshi said. "I think we've got it."
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Lisa Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 383-4686.