Updated December 31, 2020 - 11:47 am
Fremont Street Experience is restricting access to the pedestrian mall on New Year’s Eve to hotel guests only, a change made just hours before thousands of people were expected to congregate in the six-block downtown entertainment district.
The pedestrian mall had been preparing to have as many as 14,000 visitors Thursday evening, according to state officials, and had received a special use permit from the City of Las Vegas that allowed them to prohibit street performances, charge a security fee and bring in additional crowd control.
The plan received backlash from members of the state’s COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Task Force on Tuesday, with COVID response director Caleb Cage saying this the plan would “have a significant impact on our ability to maintain and control the spread of the virus in the state, especially given that fact that we’re at hospital capacity right now.”
Hotel guests only
Just before 10 a.m. Thursday, the Fremont Street Experience issued a statement saying it had decided to restrict access to the pedestrian mall between 6 p.m. and 4 a.m. on New Year’s Eve. Only hotel guests over 21 staying at Binion’s, the California, Circa, the D Las Vegas, Four Queens, Fremont, Golden Gate and Golden Nugget with a valid wristband will be permitted on the walkway.
The permit issued by the City of Las Vegas earlier this month granted Fremont Street the authority to limit access on the public pedestrian mall.
Fremont Street Experience said the shift in plans came after consultation with health officials.
“The restricted access decision was made out of an abundance of caution to protect the health and safety of our guests, employees and community,” the statement said. “There will be no event or entertainment on the mall for the evening.”
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman told the Review-Journal Thursday she believes the Fremont Street Experience’s had been “doing the right things from the beginning,” but the pressure to curb access was “too much to bare.”
“I think the Fremont Street Experience … has been in compliance with everything, with keeping our own residents and workers safe and healthy and doing that too with any visitors,” she said. “People are coming into town, and you cannot put your head in the sand and ignore that. You have to be prepared.”
Goodman added that while she believes health and safety are top priorities, she wants to see COVID-19 restrictions change in the New Year.
“Let’s home that 2021 is going to see us learn from how we handled this all in 2020, because COVID is stronger than ever, and all these restrictions have done nothing to curb its effects,” she said. “We have a lot of people putting a lot of pressure to obey, obey, obey. I applaud our hotels and private industry, and think that this has really been out of line.”
Earlier this month, Gov. Steve Sisolak extended a statewide “pause” that includes stricter mask requirements and smaller capacities at restaurants, bars, casinos, gyms and other areas of recreation or entertainment through Jan. 15.
The state is still grappling with the spread of the coronavirus; a state official said Tuesday that the virus will be the No. 1 killer in Nevada in December. New had been trending lower in the state for nearly three weeks, but officials say that is likely due to fewer people getting tested around the holidays, resulting in fewer new diagnoses.
On Wednesday, Sisolak called Fremont Street Experience’s original plan “just plain irrisponsible.”
“At this stage in the game we know what is considered a high risk activity, and large gatherings are included in high risk activities,” he said.
Change of plans
Fremont Street Experience spokespeople did not have information on how many people are expected on the walkway Thursday, but company websites show two of the eight hotels with access are sold out. The hotels have a combined count of more than 5,600 rooms.
The Fremont Street Experience’s website had halted the $25 wristband sales on Wednesday, with the site saying it was “temporarily offline.”
Guests who had purchased a $25 security fee will receive a full refund and a complimentary ride on the SlotZilla Zipline, according to the statement.
Wesley Harper, director of the Nevada League of Cities, said during Tuesday’s meeting that the Fremont Street Experience had been viewing the New Year’s Eve gathering as a protest, or an inevitable event they could not cancel because it is a public walkway, and would instead prepare for by limiting access and live entertainment.
Fremont Street Experience announced earlier this month that it would allow people 21 and over inside the walkway on New Years Eve, as long as they pay the security fee. Attendees would be able to ride SlotZilla and view the Viva Vision Canopy and fireworks from the Plaza, a downtown hotel-casino.
A Plaza spokeswoman said fireworks with no public viewing areas are still planned for Thursday night.
The entertainment district’s original New Year’s Eve plan came about after it failed to receive approval from the Clark County Recovery Organization to host a New Year’s Eve event with live music and roughly 10,000 attendees in early November.