A report released by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority on April 9 showed that 55 percent of all surveyed visitors to the Downtown area in 2018 were millennials.
Now, the challenge for city leaders is to attract millennials—and those of any other generation—to not just visit but live Downtown.
The coveted age group has been targeted by city planners and private developers all over the country in cities that have redeveloped or reimagined downtown areas.
In Las Vegas, Bill Arent, the city’s economic and urban development department director, is one of the point people in the effort to beef up Downtown’s population.
“The pitch is that it’s exciting to be on the ground floor of something,” Arent said. “Downtown living and the case to live Downtown is really something new. Up until recently, there really wasn’t a reason to be Downtown, but I think we have that now with the entertainment, the arts district, being kind of the center of the Valley where you can get anywhere pretty quick. It’s a good place to live.”
Looking to move the needle
According to numbers provided by the city, Downtown’s population has been almost flat in recent years, with a population of 22,261 in July 2018 compared to 22,590 in 2014.
In 2013, Uri Vaknin’s company, KRE Capital, purchased several condominium buildings in Las Vegas, including the since-revamped Ogden and Juhl properties.
“I literally hear, every day, about what [condo] buyers want and what attracts them to Downtown living,” Vaknin said. “What’s happened in so many cities is that culture and the arts have revitalized urban areas. People wanted to live by culture, which can be loosely defined.”
In early April, the city hosted its third annual “Livin’ in the City” residential fair at City Hall, which included a keynote address by former Scottsdale, Arizona director of public art Donna Isaac.
Vaknin, along with city leaders, have pointed to Scottsdale as a vision for what an arts district could do to propel Downtown Las Vegas forward.
“If you look at Scottsdale, people desperately want to live there,” Vaknin said. “We want people to say ‘I want to live in Downtown Las Vegas.’ Look at the First Friday events, which draw 10,000 people Downtown. Why aren’t those people living Downtown? They’re driving in from Henderson or Summerlin.”
Recent additions like Fremont9—a five-story complex with 232 residential units and 15,000 square feet of retail space in Downtown’s East Village District—certainly help the cause, but many complexes feature a small number of living units.
Some of the bigger Downtown projects planned to be finished in 2020 include the $55 million, 300-unit Aspen Heights apartment complex at Symphony Park and the $76 million International Market Centers convention center facility.
There’s also the planned Las Vegas Nevada Museum of Art location, which would go up next to the Smith Center for the Performing Arts at Symphony Park.
Attracting all ages
While the conventional wisdom, Arent said, is that cities wanting to revitalize areas need to go after potential millennial residents, it’s also important to cast a wide net.
“Certainly younger professionals are moving into Downtown, but [developers] are selling condos to couples in their 70s, too,” Arent said. “I think people of all ages are looking at Downtown as a place to live. We do have a younger demographic, but there are really all ages now.”
One such person is Tom Schoeman, an architect and developer who moved to Las Vegas in 1979.
Schoeman helped design the Lucy, which is a mixed-use building at 6th Street and Bonneville Avenue Downtown. Schoeman and his wife, Susan, live in the building, which is the new home of the Writer’s Block Book Store.
“I think it’s time for the private sector to come in and do infill development to build up the residential population,” Schoeman said. “I hope more mom and pop developers will develop in the Downtown [area]. Do a three- or four-lot development for 20 units and commercial development that goes with it.”
Paul Murad, who’s the president of Downtown-based Metroplex Realty and also a Downtown resident, thinks the city could do a better job on the homelessness issue and parking.
“I see people not wanting to come Downtown to meet because they think it’s difficult to park, and the city is eager to give them parking tickets. One easy thing would be for the city to create a parking permit for residents and relax their enforcement on visitors a bit,” Murad said. Even with its challenges, Murad still called the area a “great place” to live and work.
“There are some real issues that we’re dealing with, but Downtown Las Vegas is like every other downtown in the U.S. where we have a homelessness issue,” Arent said. “We’re doing some things to help that population. What I would say is this—come and see for yourself. People might associate Downtown with five or 10 or 15 years ago. Today, even in just the past three years, it’s very different.”