Downtown Las Vegas

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Downtown Las Vegas skyline looking south, with the Las Vegas Valley in the background.

Downtown Las Vegas is the central business district of Las Vegas, Nevada. It is the original townsite and gambling district of Las Vegas, prior to the Strip, and the area still incorporates downtown gaming. As the urban core of the Las Vegas Valley, it features a variety of hotel and business skyscrapers, cultural centers, historical buildings, and government institutions as well as residential and retail developments. Downtown is located in the center of the Las Vegas Valley and just north of the Las Vegas Strip, centered on Fremont Street, the Fremont Street Experience and Fremont East. The city defines the area as bounded by I-15 on the West, Washington Avenue on the North, Maryland Parkway on the east and Sahara Avenue on the South.[1]


The first non Native Americans to settle in the area what would become Las Vegas were a group of Mormons who arrived from Utah in 1855. They constructed a fort located in the current downtown area but abandoned it a few years later. Eventually, other settlers arrived, taking advantage of the nearby springs as a source of water for agriculture. This water made the area an important water stop and was instrumental in the building of a railroad through the area around 1905. On May 15, 1905, the city of Las Vegas was founded on about 110 acres of land comprising what is now downtown.[2]

Neighborhoods and attractions[edit]

Casinos of Fremont Street at night.

Fremont Street Casino District[edit]

Fremont Street is home to most of downtown's hotels and casinos. These are the original casinos of Las Vegas and existed before the more famous Las Vegas Strip. Featuring several historical hotel casinos in a more urban setting, it offers a more intimate and vintage experience compared to that of the Strip. The Fremont Street Experience is a canopied street of the downtown area where casinos have been connected to the street and to each other in a unique visual manner. With more than 2 million lights and a state-of-the-art sound system, the Fremont Street Experience brings nightly shows through the world's largest audio-video system. The $70 million attraction features the ultimate in multisensory entertainment. It also brings a variety of exciting special events, cuisine, special entertainment and live concerts throughout the year.[3][4]

Fremont East District[edit]

Fremont East sign.

The property and business owners have been working to redevelop Fremont Street just east of the Fremont Street Experience. In 2002, the city of Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency joined with Fremont East property and business owners to create a business improvement district as well as pay for a $5.5 million streetscape improvement called Fremont East. It features an eclectic mix of bars, clubs and restaurants. Centered on Las Vegas Boulevard on Fremont Street, this three-block renovation included pedestrian-friendly street redesign, landscaping and retro-looking neon signage.[5][6][7]

The Arts District[edit]

Also called the 18b Arts District, this area is home to the city's arts scene with its mix of art galleries, studios and stores. Centered on Main Street and Charleston Boulevard, the area hosts the popular First Friday Festival every month featuring art, food, music and other performances.[8][9]

Symphony Park[edit]

Symphony Park is a mixed-use urban district being built on the vacant land to the west of Fremont Street. It will eventually feature a mix of retail, medical, hotel, and residential developments. The city of Las Vegas is undertaking the development on 61 acres (25 ha) of land purchased from the Union Pacific Railroad in 1995. The Symphony Park development will be one of the largest urban redevelopment projects in the United States. This is a major project for the Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency and the city.[10]

Financial District[edit]

Centered on Bonneville Avenue and Casino Center Boulevard, most of this area is filled with office and government buildings. As several court buildings are located here, there are many justice related businesses such as law firms. The financial district is also home to the Las Vegas City Hall building, the Lloyd D. George U.S. Courthouse, and several bank buildings, including Bank of America. The Clark County Marriage Bureau is also located here at the Regional Justice Center.[11]

Art and Culture[edit]

The Smith Center at Symphony Park.

Downtown is a hub for arts and culture in the Metro area. The main venue for performing arts is the $470 million Art Deco inspired Smith Center for the Performing Arts. A number of neon signs from former Las Vegas casinos have been restored and installed on a few streets around downtown. A famous icon of downtown Las Vegas is the Vegas Vic sign. The downtown area also hosts a number of museums.



Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.


Several buildings of architectural significance exist downtown, although being founded in 1905, Las Vegas lacks the number of historical buildings of older cities. The Historic 5th Street School built in 1936 is a Mission-Spanish Revival style and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Also listed is the Las Vegas Post Office and Courthouse, one of the few historical Neo-classical buildings in the city. Built in 1930, the Las Vegas Academy of International Studies and Performing Arts is the city's best example of Art Deco architecture. Morelli House, built in 1959, is a notable Mid Century modern design. The old City Hall is a notable example 1960s modern architecture.[12][13]

As Las Vegas boomed, more recent buildings tended to take inspiration from a variety of styles. The Clark County Government Center has a red sandstone exterior invoking a desert motif. The Smith Center for the Performing Arts built in 2012 is a more modern example of Art Deco design. In 2009, architect Frank Gehry designed the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health building in deconstructivist style.[14]


  • Donald W. Reynolds Symphony Park
  • Lewis Avenue Pedestrian Corridor
  • Heritage Park
  • Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort State Historic Park
  • Clark County Government Center Amphitheater
  • Cashman Field Center


Downtown serves as a main center for government services in the Las Vegas Valley. The governments of the City of Las Vegas and Clark County are located here as well as the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and several courts.

Some former government buildings have been turned into attractions, such as the old Las Vegas Post Office and Courthouse becoming the Mob Museum.


RTC express BRT line in Downtown Las Vegas.

Two major freeways—Interstate 15 and Interstate 515/U.S. Route 95—cross in downtown Las Vegas. RTC Transit is a public transportation system providing bus service throughout Las Vegas, including the downtown area.

A bus rapid transit link in Las Vegas called the Strip & Downtown Express (previously ACE Gold Line) with limited stops and frequent service was launched in March 2010, and connects Downtown Las Vegas, the Strip, the Las Vegas Convention Center, and Town Square. It stops at the Bonneville Transit Center. Completed in 2012, the transit terminal serves as a central transfer point for downtown and features 16 vehicle bays for buses and 100 bike racks.[15]


The downtown area is primarily been based on tourism, as is the case in the greater Las Vegas Valley. However, the smaller downtown casinos earn revenues that pale in comparison to the mega resorts of the Las Vegas Strip further south. As of 2012, there have been ongoing renovations of several downtown resorts such as The Plaza, Golden Gate Hotel, and Golden Nugget.[16][17]

There does exist some corporate offices as well as a World Market Center for trade shows and conventions. Recently, the opening of the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and the arrival of the new Zappos headquarters downtown has started to attract new medical and technology oriented businesses to the area.


The downtown area in recent years has played second fiddle to the larger and more famous Las Vegas Strip, which is located a few miles to the south. The city has been working on revitalization efforts to entice more visitors and residents to the downtown area.

The World Market Center complex.

World Market Center Las Vegas is another project on which the city concentrated its efforts. In 2002, WMCLV was announced on a lot adjacent to the city of Las Vegas' redevelopment parcel, as an eight-building complex offering 7,500,000 square feet (700,000 m2) in a facility designed by Jon Jerde. Three of the buildings opened in 2011.

The square footage of World Market Center Las Vegas is greater than the Willis Tower in Chicago and the Empire State Building in New York City.

The city is also working to attract events to the downtown area. For instance, in April 2007, the Champ Car World Series hosted the 2007 Vegas Grand Prix in downtown Las Vegas.

The mayor and city have supported efforts to have a sports arena built downtown. In 2009 an exclusive negotiation agreement was signed with developer Cordish Co. of Baltimore to study the feasibility of such a project but nothing has been finalized yet.[18]

In 2012 several new downtown projects were completed. The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, the new Mob Museum and a new City Hall building opened.

In addition, an agreement was finalized for the tech company Zappos to move into the old Las Vegas City Hall to use as its new headquarters by 2013. It is hoped the deal will give the downtown area a new economic anchor to attract new businesses and help revitalize the area.[19]

Film and media history[edit]


  1. ^ Schoenmann, Joe (March 19, 2014). "Joe Downtown: The boundaries of Downtown Las Vegas are as fluid as its reputation". Las Vegas Weekly. Retrieved March 29, 2014. 
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  5. ^ Las Vegas Sun, New district is all about old Las Vegas
  6. ^ "PHOTOS: Fremont East Gets Glamour Treatment". Las Vegas Review-Journal. 2007-08-25. Retrieved 2007-08-27. 
  7. ^ "Third Street has potential to be night life magnet". Las Vegas Review-Journal. 2004-09-18. Retrieved 2007-08-27. 
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