Hsieh-backed apartment project kicks off construction downtown

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, attends a groundbreaking ceremony for Fremont9, a new apartment complex at East Fremont and Ninth streets, on Monday, May 16, 2016, in downtown Las Vegas.

Fremont9 Groundbreaking

Nate Carlson (second left), vice president of development for the Wolff Company, Todd Kessler of Resort Gaming Group and Tim Wolff, executive vice president of development for the Wolff Company, unveil the name of the apartment complex during groundbreaking ceremony for Fremont9, a new apartment complex at East Fremont and Ninth streets, in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, May 16, 2016. Launch slideshow »

With new bars, restaurants and retailers, downtown Las Vegas’ Fremont Street has come a long way in recent years from a history of drugs, prostitution and blight.

It still lags other big cities’ urban cores, but an ingredient that many people see as critical to Fremont’s revival is now taking shape: new housing.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project, which has been fueling Fremont’s comeback, and the Wolff Co., an Arizona-based apartment investment firm, held a news conference Monday to unveil the name of their five-story, 231-unit rental complex and to celebrate its groundbreaking.

The 1.3-acre project, dubbed Fremont9, is at the southeast corner of Fremont and 9th streets, next to Atomic Liquors and two blocks east of retail and eatery complex Downtown Container Park, another Hsieh-backed development.

Fremont9 is slated to include 15,000 square feet of retail, as well as a “hip resident lounge,” resort-style pool, quartz countertops and stainless-steel appliances, developers said. Site work is underway, but nothing vertical is built yet.

The investors aim to finish in the second quarter of 2017, said Nate Carlson, a vice president of development for Wolff.

Fremont9 comes as Las Vegas’ apartment market heats up with rising rents, shrinking vacancies and increased construction. Investors are mostly building along the 215 Beltway in southwest Las Vegas and Henderson.

Despite downtown’s popularity with younger adults, a key source of renters, apartment developers are largely avoiding the neighborhood. Among other things, it’s easier and cheaper to build in the valley’s outer rings; Fremont Street lacks a full-service supermarket; and downtown remains laced with vagrants, vacant lots and boarded-up buildings.

John Curran, Downtown Project’s real estate portfolio manager, said it’s somewhat of a “pioneering neighborhood,” and that a project there needs developers who can see what downtown would be “in a few years, rather than where it is today.”

Carlson, for one, said “a lot of people don’t understand how amazing” it is on Fremont Street east of the casino-packed, canopy-covered Fremont Street Experience, and that when his group saw “what this place can become, we were very interested” in developing a project.

“You can’t fake this kind of cool,” Fremont9’s website says. “Two steps to your right? Legendary Atomic Liquors. A block to your left? The Container Park filled with goodness. A hop, skip and jump in either direction? Dog parks. The world’s best barista. Craft everything.”

Fremont9’s average rental rates are expected to be around $1,000 to $1,100 per month, with units ranging from 500 to 1,200 square feet, Carlson said. In the Las Vegas area, the average asking rent in the first quarter was $918, according to New York-based research firm Reis Inc.

“We have been waiting so long for residences downtown, and to have them be available for people not of the highest income ... it’s just really exciting,” Mayor Carolyn Goodman said at Monday’s event.

Online shoe seller Zappos brought a surge of daily foot traffic to Fremont Street when it moved to the old City Hall in 2013. And Downtown Project, armed with $350 million of seed money, has financed new eateries, bars, tech startups, retailers and other ventures in the neighborhood.

Besides Container Park and Fremont9, a few other real estate developments have come to the corridor the past few years, including the Venue Las Vegas, an events facility across from the Container Park that hosted its first event last August, and Turmeric Flavors of India, a two-story restaurant and lounge that’s being built at the Venue’s next-door neighbor, City Center Motel.

But overall, unlike in other U.S. cities’ downtowns, ground-up construction is largely missing from Fremont Street. And east of the Container Park, foot traffic thins out as the landscape changes in part to empty lots and shuttered motels.

Atomic Liquors owner Lance Johns figures that if Fremont9 fills with tenants, developers would flood the area and more restaurants and retailers would open in the quieter stretch of Fremont.

At the very least, being next to 231 new homes — many of which would likely be filled with 20- and 30-somethings who like to go out — seems like a gold mine for the popular tavern.

“It’s not gonna hurt us at all, for sure,” he said.

Real Estate