Hsieh wants to set downtown on fire

Downtown redeveloper Tony Hsieh is fired up — a man on a mission — as he pours
$350 million into the run-down epicenter of early Las Vegas.

His latest pet project? Inspired by his fire-breathing, 35-foot-high praying mantis, Hsieh wants to create a fire-lit corridor from East Fremont to Maryland Parkway.

“There is no city that ‘owns’ the concept of fire as art/entertainment and as a way of connecting people together,” said Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, an online shoe and apparel company that tops $1 billion in annual sales. “I think there’s an opportunity for downtown Vegas to be that city. Imagine if fire art was a way to discover downtown at night.”

Last summer, Hsieh (pronounced shay) purchased the praying mantis, a popular attraction in recent years at the Burning Man festival .

Hsieh’s plan is to park the mantis, with its futuristic green laser eyes and flame-shooting antennas, at the entrance of Container Park, a retail and nightlife center at Fremont and Seventh streets. It’s part of a dramatic downtown transformation, one of 75 projects in the works or being explored by Hsieh’s Downtown Project, a passionate army of community-building followers.

Why fire?

“It’s primal. As we have evolved, we’ve always gathered around fire, passing stories from generation to generation,” he said.

He was nursing a midnight shot of Fernet at the newly reopened Gold Spike, one of the Downtown Project’s many makeovers.

Life around Hsieh is apparently never dull: Tuesday night’s Downtown Lowdown ended in a blizzard of crowd-surfing blowup dolls. Today at 5, Hsieh and about 100 of his disciples and will join a llama parade that starts in front of The Beat, 520 Fremont. They will trek to a tailgate party at Cashman Field before taking in a 51s game.

Why llamas? “Because they are funny,” said Hsieh, a fun-loving genius who chooses to wear balloon hats.


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Norm Clarke’s column appears Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at 702-383-0244 or email him at norm@reviewjournal.com. Find more online at www.normclarke.com. Follow Norm on Twitter @Norm_Clarke. “Norm Clarke’s Vegas,” airs Thursdays on the “Morning Blend” on KTNV-TV, Channel 13.

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