This weekend’s New York Times Magazine profiles a particular kind of urban renewal happening amidst Las Vegas’ bright lights and big real estate downturn.
The Downtown Project, headed up by Zappos chief exec Tony Hsieh, aims to build “the most community-focused large city in the world” with its $350 million — a reflection of Zappos’ own corporate focus on keeping customers deliriously happy.
“I first thought I would buy a piece of land and build our own Disneyland,” he told the group. But he worried that the company would be too cut off from the outside world and ultimately decided “it was better to interact with the community.”
And so Hsieh’s adventures commenced.
He leased the former City Hall — smack in the middle of downtown Vegas — for 15 years. Then he got to thinking: If he was going to move at least 1,200 employees, why not make it possible for them to live nearby? And if they could live nearby, why not create an urban community aligned with the culture of Zappos, which encourages the kind of “serendipitous interactions” that happen in offices without walls? As Zach Ware, Hsieh’s right-hand man in the move, put it, “We wanted the new campus to benefit from interaction with downtown, and downtown to benefit from interaction with Zappos.” The only hitch was that it would require transforming the derelict core of a major city.
Cue the wooing of tech entrepreneurs, dotted by gritty amusements — oh, we thought that derelict building was empty, not full of low-income residents ha-ha! Still, Hsieh sticks to his moneyed guns when it comes to “return on community.”
The goals are lofty, but what about maybe applying them in a natural environment a little more sustainable for human communities than, you know, the Mojave Desert?