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Upswing in activity downtown under way

Q: I’m curious to find out a local professional’s thoughts about the proposed and ongoing changes downtown. Are you seeing an influx of investment interest downtown? Is it primarily commercial or residential?

Thanks in advance for any light you can shed on what’s happening there. All the best.

– Al P., Memphis, Tenn.

 A: This has become a hot topic about what is arguably the hottest part of town for all sorts of development.

After struggling for years, like aging downtown areas in many other cities, downtown Las Vegas has definitely been on the upswing in recent years.

I’d say the short answer to your question is yes. We’re seeing an influx of interest from investors, as well as from developers, entrepreneurs and even downtown residents – a rare breed until recent years. I see continued strong interest in commercial and residential investment.

Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh gets lots of well-deserved attention for sparking much of this recent downtown redevelopment activity. His contributions are many, led by Zappos deciding to move its headquarters from a suburban area of Henderson to the building in the heart of downtown that previously served as Las Vegas City Hall.

He also is the driving force behind the Downtown Project, which is investing as much as $350 million in everything from residential and real estate developments downtown to support tech startups, cultural and educational projects.

In early December, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Hsieh is contributing another $1 million to Venture for America to bring about 100 recent college graduates involved in the business training program to Las Vegas during the next five years.

This so-called “Zappos effect” is credited with attracting thousands of new workers and perhaps hundreds of new residents to downtown.

While this increased interest and attention has been driving up real estate prices downtown, I think this has largely been viewed by business and community leaders as positive spark for the downtown redevelopment activities that were already under way.

This seems to be the consensus of commercial real estate experts like Hayim Mizrachi, who runs NAI Global Las Vegas and is president-elect of the Commercial Alliance Las Vegas.

Mizrachi said “there is some real estate speculation” happening downtown and the commercial market there is “increasingly competitive.” Still, he sees plenty of good opportunities to invest, “as long as you know what you’re doing as an investor and you’re working with a qualified commercial real estate professional who knows the market.”

On the residential side, I know many of the mixed-use and midrise condominium developments built downtown during the housing boom that started nearly a decade ago have now begun to fill up with residents. Many of these downtown buildings – including the Ogden, a high-rise a few blocks from the old City Hall where Hsieh and many of his colleagues have taken up residence – are mostly occupied by residents who rent, rather than own, their units.

Hsieh and his Downtown Project reportedly rent about 40 rooms at the Ogden to host guests, many of whom are interested in living, working or starting businesses in downtown.

From my perspective, that’s far better than seeing the units sit vacant, as so many of them did during the economic downturn we experienced here during the past few years.

Kolleen Kelley is the 2012 president of the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors. To ask her a question, email her at ask@glvar.org. For more information, visit www.lasvegasrealtor.com.

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