Downtown Las Vegas is neglected no more. The area, which now sees most of its revenue coming from welcome bonus casino activity, is experiencing a number of positive changes resulting from casino owners’ investments in the area. Analysts say that the changes are noticeable – data from the Nevada Gaming Control Board showed that in July 2019, gaming in downtown Las Vegas rose 5.83 percent over 2018 even while it fell 0.3 percent on the Strip.
One of the biggest downtown projects is Circa, a 777-room casino-hotel that’s scheduled to open next year. To the west, the Downtown Grand is building a new hotel tower. At Fremont Street Experience, upgrades and expansion is the order of the day. Observers say that the investments testify to the area’s success.
Derek Stevens, owner of the D Las Vegas and Golden Gate and developer of Circa said “There’s a lot more going on now than three years ago. I feel very bullish on downtown. Obviously, that’s where I put my money.”
At the Fremont Street Experience, president and CEO Patrick Hughes points to several reasons why he’s counting on Downtown Las Vegas to lead the way in future Vegas prosperity. He believes that there are several factors that are making Downtown a more desirable destination for both VIP and casual players including affordability, diversity and an increased focus on digital advertising.
“The downtown casino owners “make a concerted effort to maintain a value proposition,” says Hughes. They organize events that bring in people and creates bars, clubs and restaurants that focus on drawing in younger demographics. “One has to give credit to (Zappos CEO) Tony Hsieh,” Hughes says. “That was the community he was building … one of random connections and interactions, and that’s certainly happening on Fremont East.”
There are other attractions that are drawing visitors downtown as well. They include historical properties, the Neon Museum and the Mob Museum. ”Millennials are curious,” Hughes said. “They don’t mind spending their money for an experience, and history is one of those.”
Hughes says that downtown Las Vegas is evolving to provide a variety of attractions. The efforts seem to be working. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, in 2014, 36 percent of visitors said they had visited downtown Las Vegas on their trip -- by 2018, that figure was 46 percent.
Jeremy Aguero, principal analyst for Las Vegas-based Applied Analysis weighed in. “There are new restaurants, new bars, entertainment going on all the time. … You have to be impressed with what you’re seeing downtown,,,you’re seeing a new energy and a new way in which that area is being viewed by visitors and residents. It’s becoming more attractive.”
The Plaza recently renovated its downtown property . More than 100 rooms and suites were upgraded to the tune of $1.5 million. Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman praised the Plaza for its vote of faith in the downtown area. “To see the changes and the involvement in the city in all aspects, everything that we’re doing here … (is) enriching the quality of life in downtown, making it exciting,” she said.
Plaza CEO Jonathan Jossel feels that it’s not only the renovations that are attracting people to the area. “Downtown always had appeal, but there wasn’t anything downtown to attract people here long term,” he said. “But there’s improvement. People are now spending more time down here.”
Many observers point out that those visitors are often middle-class Americans who are attracted by the affordability and atmosphere. Whereas a steak dinner on the Strip can run $100, you can find the same fare downtown for $9. Fremont Street’s Patrick Hughes feels that there's more to the draw including downtown’s reputation as a melting pot of affluent visitors and young locals.
Downtown is also heavily reliant on gambling. The Gaming Control Board says that last year, half of downtown’s casinos’ revenue came from gaming as opposed to 34 percent of Strip casinos’ revenue during the same period.
According to Plaza’s Jossel, there are no indications that the downtown numbers will drop anytime soon. “We’ve seen our own revenue growth in double-digit growth every month, almost the last two years,” said Jossel. “For us, (we) just keep focusing on doing what we do well, and that’s growing out gaming revenue. … If gaming keeps going up, why veer away from that?”
The Fremont Street Experience was a pioneer casino when it opened downtown in 1995. Now, nearly 15 years later, it is seeing its goal to drive visitation and investment in the area pay off. According to Hughes, there’s still a lot to do but he says that Fremont has seen big changes in the area, especially in the last few years. “There’s certainly more (steps to take),” he said. “I would think the next growth is going to be … single-family residences or condos or high-rises. There’s certainly opportunity there.”
Investors are looking ahead. The next big project may involve the construction of a new soccer stadium on the site of Cashman Field which will house a Major League Soccer expansion franchise.
Stevens said he’s optimistic about the future of downtown and Las Vegas as a whole. Together with the Fremont Street Experience Renovation, the MSG Sphere, Circa and the (Las Vegas) Convention Center, downtown Las Vegas is transforming.
Hughes is excited but is taking the changes in stride. “There’s always room for growth. We all know this is a wave, he said. “There will be a dip. There will be swings. (But) right now, everything’s on a positive note.”