Neonopolis by any other name still has smell of disaster

Neonopolis is no more.

You know, technically speaking.

In an announcement last week that somehow failed to make a Jay Leno monologue, it was revealed at a City Council meeting that the oft-maligned and questionably designed Neonopolis would undergo that most dicey of marketing gestures, a name change.

Goodbye Neonopolis, hello Fremont Square.

No, really.

They renamed it Fremont Square.

On purpose.

You may be excused if this latest incarnation fails to set your toes tapping and pulses pounding. Although officially located on Fremont Street — where its shopkeepers would welcome customers, if there were shopkeepers and customers — the building’s not square. Nor is it positioned on a square. The best they can muster in the immediate area is an intersection, but I guess Fremont Square won out over, say, "Gateway to Cracktown" or "Ya Wanna Twenty-Dollar Date?"

From the start, nothing about Neonopolis has been on the square. I long ago nicknamed it Neonflopolis in order to generate a few cheap laughs and describe its never-ending financial foundering. I dreamed the city would rename it in my honor. Alas. Snubbed again.

Undaunted, I will try one more time.

"Fremont Square: The Neon Bums Pee On."

Feel free to use it.

When I first heard of the name change, I thought, "Of all the time for a community obsessed with implosions to run short of dynamite, this has to be the most inopportune." Isn’t that really what Fremont Street needs?

Dunes? Done. Stardust? Gone to dust. Hacienda? Adios.

But Neonopolis?

No, we’ll change the name and hope for the best.

Over the years, the press and public have been served an endless baloney buffet from the project’s sponsors at City Hall and promoters in the business community. Its creators over-hyped its possibilities, and its inheritors have been stuck buying industrial-sized amounts of pig lipstick in an effort to make it appear more handsome than it is.

But give the city some credit. Its downtown redevelopment troops, who have experienced enough frustrating tours of duty to make the most optimistic among them jump from the top of Vegas Vic, are nothing if not persistent.

Their dream, it appears, is to make Neonopolis part of a gateway to the lower end of Fremont Street and a planned entertainment district. If you’re a fan of draft beer or martinis, the area is already showing signs of life in the form of the Beauty Bar, Hennessey’s Tavern and Mickie Finnz.

Although man does not live by alcohol intake alone — I know that shocks you, Mayor Goodman — the consumption of liquor has been a beaming lamppost in downtown’s economy since Prohibition.

To date, the improvements on Fremont Street somehow have done nothing to brighten the prospects of Neonopolis. The place hasn’t even been able to keep a decent bar open. If anything, it’s only gotten weirder since changing hands and being developed by Rohit Joshi. Whether Joshi ends up being a shrewd businessman or a dizzy dreamer remains to be seen.

Neonopolis has been the scene of more unkept promises than a singles bar at closing time. It’s a place where its operators have been unable to give away space to legitimate businesses.

And now the city has asked Joshi to be a good sport and have Neonopolis leave the edge of the Fremont Street Experience and join the Fremont Square experience.

It’s not like he has much say in the matter.

"We want to work with the city and try to do what the city asks to make Fremont Square a success," Joshi’s public relations consultant, William Marion, says. "It’s going to take time."

As the city battles to save Fremont Street from decline and the unrelenting odor of urine provided by the area’s resident brigade of unwashed characters, I am reminded of the marketing odyssey of another iconic American product.

In a word, prunes.

The next time you go to the supermarket, check out the prunes. It turns out they’re not prunes anymore.

They’re now marketed as "dried plums."

But I noticed children still aren’t dropping their Snickers bars and rushing the grocery store shelves to scoop up the dried plums.

So too it is with Neonopolis and Fremont Square.

It will take more than a name change to make its customers regular.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at or call 383-0295.

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