When Raj Patel’s family took charge of a Fremont Street motel 15 years ago, he said, the downtown corridor had no shortage of homeless people, prostitutes, drug addicts and dealers, and vacant buildings.
Today, the area still grapples with blight. But Fremont Street has new bars and restaurants, retailers, real estate projects and a new clientele walking around — and the Patels are getting in on the action.
The Patels, who own the 54-room City Center Motel at Fremont and Seventh streets, are developing a two-story restaurant and bar there. The new establishment, Turmeric Flavors of India, is being built where the motel's swimming pool used to be.
The family broke ground a few months ago and aims to open the roughly 6,660-square-foot eatery in summer 2016, said Raj Patel, who is overseeing the nearly $2 million project.
The Patels are the latest investors to bring new commerce to downtown Las Vegas, and Turmeric is the third real estate development to sprout the past few years on that one-block stretch of Fremont alone. The Downtown Container Park opened across Fremont from the City Center Motel in fall 2013, and the Venue Las Vegas, an events facility next to the motel, hosted its first event in August.
In some ways, Turmeric is different than most new ventures on Fremont. It would be the only Indian restaurant there, and Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project — which gobbled up property and has bankrolled new businesses and projects in the area, including the Container Park — isn’t involved “in any capacity,” Patel said.
But Hsieh and his redevelopment group helped pave the way by sparking an influx of foot traffic to the once hollowed-out corridor.
“It’s definitely better than what it was before Downtown Project came around,” Patel said.
The Patels own two other local restaurants — Saffron Flavors of India, at Craig Road and Tenaya Way in the northwest valley, and Curry Leaf Flavors of India, at Fort Apache Road and Tropicana Avenue in the southwest. The family also developed the two-story, roughly 45,000-square-foot building that houses Saffron and other businesses.
Las Vegas’ planning commission approved plans for the Turmeric building in summer 2014. Final designs still are in flux, but it’s slated to have a modern feel, with an exterior of rusted metal panels and, upstairs, an open-air patio near the bar.
“It certainly takes on a different look than what you’re used to seeing downtown,” said Roy Burson, the project’s principal architect.
Patel says he wants a nightclub-style atmosphere at Turmeric, which is poised to have live entertainment upstairs at least three nights per week. Burson, of JVC Architects, told city officials in a letter last year that the second-floor bar and lounge would have a “Kamasutra” style. But the place won’t be too upscale.
“It’s not like Hakkasan or something like that,” Patel said of the swanky nightclub at MGM Grand.
The 44-year-old Indian immigrant, who grew up in Southern California, knows Fremont Street’s ups and downs all too well.
His family leased the City Center property in 2000 and began operating the motel, and then bought the site outright in 2005, according to Patel. Around the time they leased the property, Fremont was blighted by vagrants, drugs, prostitution and abandoned properties, he said.
That area, east of the casino-packed, canopy-covered Fremont Street Experience, remains stung by homelessness and pocked with boarded-up buildings and vacant parcels. Housing developers largely avoid the neighborhood. A few blocks east of the area's main bar scene, crammed mostly into the block between Las Vegas Boulevard and Sixth Street, foot traffic thins out as the landscape changes in part to empty lots and shuttered motels.
On weekends, tourists from Southern California and Phoenix stay at the 1950s-era City Center, Patel said. Weekday boarders, however, seem to be locals and draw more scrutiny. (“We don’t do hourly,” he said of room bookings.)
“You definitely try to screen for — you don’t want the druggies, the junkies, the dealers,” Patel said.
But overall, Fremont Street has come a long way in recent years, with new shops, tech startups and other activity. Patel, for one, hopes to lure diners from nearby law firms, government agencies, online retailer Zappos and the rising number of other people walking around.
Asked if he would have considered building Turmeric a decade or so ago, Patel said: “Hell no. ... There wasn’t the foot traffic.”