Zappos hires firm to reshape City Hall

The online retailer that is changing the culture of downtown Las Vegas probably will be changing the look of the cityscape as well. has hired Gensler, the architecture firm that served as executive architect on CityCenter, to lead renovations to the City Hall building it plans to occupy in 2013.

The deal was in the works for months as Zappos employees considered several firms but only recently was finalized.

With an agreement in place, the two companies, with Resort Gaming Group, which is buying City Hall and leasing it to Zappos, will work to redesign the building to accommodate about 2,000 workers while preserving unique features of the 39-year-old structure.

The project leaders aren’t sure what changes, exactly, they will make to the building but have said they want to create spaces that make it easy for Zappos workers to spend time together while preserving what is special about the original building, dedicated in 1973, before many employees were born.

“City Hall has so much history and so many unique elements like the council chambers and the former jail,” said Zach Ware, the Zappos employee leading the downtown project. “We’re excited to see what our new partners can help us do to preserve and have a little fun with elements like those.”

Ware said the decision to hire Gensler was not made by CEO Tony Hsieh but was the result of collaboration between “a large group of Zappos employees,” and that the firm “felt like a fit to all of us.”

It will take a lot of work to complete the transformation from City Hall to Zappos headquarters.

The building currently accommodates fewer than 1,000 people, a capacity that needs to double when Zappos takes over. It is also said to require major upgrades to the structure and core systems.

“Our goal is to build a workspace that accelerates serendipity and encourages spontaneous collaboration between employees and the larger community,” Ware said. “Since we consider the workspace to include the interior of the building, the exterior of the building and the larger community, that’s a steep challenge.”

In 2010, Resort Gaming Group brokered the deal to move Zappos from Henderson to downtown Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas City Council had approved a lease-to-own deal for a new City Hall on Main Street and was looking for a tenant to take over the existing building at Stewart Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard.

Resort Gaming Group agreed to buy City Hall, a large parking garage attached by a bridge over Stewart and a TV studio for $25 million and lease it to Zappos.

The price was reduced to $18 million after inspections revealed it would cost more than expected to bring the building up to standards for Zappos, which plans to spend about $40 million in renovations.

The deal also means the city has to pay off early debt remaining on the $6.3 million parking garage.

In Gensler, Zappos is hiring a firm with projects in dozens of countries. On its website, the firm says it strives for its work to complement the surrounding area.

At CityCenter, Gensler was executive architect, meaning it represented the owner, MGM Mirage, now MGM Resorts International, in design and construction of the 76-acre, approximately $9 billion project, which includes three luxury hotels, a casino, an upscale shopping mall and a condo tower.

CityCenter was lauded as the world’s largest LEED-certified development, a designation it earned for energy and environmentally conserving features, but it was bedeviled by flaws, including insufficient support for one of the towers, which never opened to the public and MGM plans to demolish.

Still, Ware said Zappos is pleased with the choice of firm.

He said Gensler was selected through a process similar to Zappos’ culture interviews, in which employees choose new hires based largely on how they might fit within the online retailer’s unique corporate culture.

“All of the firms we interviewed over the past few months were technically capable,” Ware said. “We spent most of our time looking for a firm that most closely matched our core values, our culture and shared our respect for the downtown community.”

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ or 702-229-6435.

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