City should re-evaluate Fremont East policy

If you build it, they will come. At least until police start handing out citations that fly in the face of what Las Vegas nightlife is about.

That could be the case with Fremont East, the redeveloped area east of the Fremont Street Experience that is rapidly gaining popularity among both tourists and locals.

As reported Sunday by the Review-Journal’s Benjamin Spillman, Fremont East is drawing huge crowds to a variety of bars and clubs in an area that, until the past few years, most people would have no desire to set foot in. It was desolate and dangerous.

Now the crowds often spill onto the sidewalks, sometimes into the street. And some patrons are carrying their drinks while going to and from these establishments — a common and legal activity both in the adjacent Fremont Street Experience and on the Strip. Only it’s not legal within Fremont East.

So the police crackdowns have begun. As Mr. Spillman noted, on a recent Friday night, police issued citations and confiscated countless cans and bottles of alcohol. Metro later deployed horses for crowd control and used loudspeakers to urge people to keep the sidewalks clear. Bar owners weren’t spared, either. Early on a recent Saturday morning, two establishments were cited for public nuisance (noise) violations and work card violations. They were shut down for 24 hours — losing valuable Saturday night revenue.

The Downtown Project — a $350 million urban renewal effort funded in large part by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh — began deploying the Downtown Rangers, a crew of uniformed workers who act as sidewalk concierges and unarmed security between the Fremont Street Experience and Fremont East, advising passers-by to dispose of their drinks or risk a $200 alcohol citation.

The problem with all of that: the city of Las Vegas specifically identified the Fremont East district as exempt from noise ordinances that prohibit loud music elsewhere. The loud music and revelry were all part of the plan to revitalize the dilapidated part of town, with the City Council helping bring along the project. The idea was to bring some of the Strip’s party scene — and the revenue it generates — to downtown, but police have been inconsistent in applying the law. Such inconsistency surely will come at a cost to Fremont East if the city can’t find a more equitable way to treat patrons.

No one is suggesting that wild displays of public drunkenness in the middle of the street should be tolerated. Furthermore, there are legitimate crime issues in the area around the entertainment district. Those concerns can’t be ignored.

But there’s a difference between obviously criminal behavior and carrying a beer from the Fremont Street Experience into a Fremont East nightclub. If that difference isn’t recognized in short order, it will be at the peril of the long-term success of Fremont East.

Don’t give people more reasons not to go there — particularly tourists, who can then spread the word like wildfire via social media. Just because you built it doesn’t mean they will stay. One $200 ticket will take care of anyone’s urge to come back.

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