UNITED STATES

Las Vegas, NV

Imaginative Container Park Showcases Rebirth of Downtown Las Vegas

Container Park in Downtown Las Vegas

Built from four dozen shipping containers and guarded by a 12-metre-high praying mantis that shoots flames, the Container Park is home to nearly 40 small businesses and showcases the rebirth of Downtown Las Vegas.
JOHN MASTERS/Meridian Writers’ Group

WHEN SHE WAS growing up here, Taryn Vazquez remembers, Downtown Las Vegas, “was filled with homeless people and syringes. A really bad part of town.”

Downtown Las Vegas, where Nevada gambling began in the 1930s, reached its apogee in the 1940s and ’50s. But in the ’60s new mega-resorts along the Strip, south of Downtown, began to steal business and by the 1990s it had become the seedy place Vazquez describes.

The first major effort to revive the area put a vaulting roof studded with millions of LEDs over five blocks of casino-lined Fremont Street, creating light shows accompanied by loud music. Some 17 million of Las Vegas’s 41 million annual visitors now take in the Fremont Experience. Live acts perform and zip lines give the more adventurous an aerial view of the milling crowds.

But until very recently, few went beyond the security and glitz of the Experience into Downtown itself, and for good reason. The eastern reaches of Fremont Street are still a bit of a motel graveyard: places like the Travelers (“Your best bet in Vegas since 1936”) sit forlornly behind dusty chain-link fences. Closer to the Experience, though, bars, cafés and even art galleries have begun to spring up and, at the corner of 7th and Fremont, on the site of a Motel 6, the Container Park.

The Container Park is the crown jewel of the Downtown Project, a $350-million investment by Internet entrepreneur Tony Hsieh (pronounced “Shay”) to re-invigorate Downtown Las Vegas. Four dozen shipping containers have been piled atop one another, two and three storeys high, around a courtyard. The entrance to this architectural singularity is guarded by a 12-metre tall praying mantis that randomly shoots flames skyward.

Inside the compound, nearly 40 small businesses sell everything from home decor to hair treatments. Bin 702, a wine shop and charcuterie, has been there since the park opened in 2013. It’s where Taryn Vazquez works.

“They did a really good job of making sure there was a real eclectic mix of businesses,” she says. She reckons the clientele is about half tourists, half locals. “All the time, I hear people saying how cool this is. Everybody finds it super-interesting.”

An occasional customer was Hsieh himself. He always drank Fernet-Branca and Coke Zero—one indication of how unusual he was. (Another is that he lived in a 19-square-metre trailer in Airstream Park, which he also owned.) After selling his Internet start-up to Microsoft for $265 million in 1999, Hsieh became the CEO of Zappos.com, an online shoe seller that Amazon bought for $1.2 billion in 2009. The Zappos headquarters is in Downtown Las Vegas—hence Hsieh’s interest in fixing the place up. (He stepped down as Zappos CEO in August 2020 and died in a house fire in Connecticut three months later, aged 46.)

There’s still room for lots of improvement Downtown. But the children’s playground in the Container Park is often busy, suggesting that families are now willing to venture here. And Taryn Vazquez says, “It’s somewhere I can work and feel safe as a young, small woman. I can walk to my car at night.”

 

ACCESS

For more information on the Downtown Project visit its website at www.downtownproject.com.

For information on Las Vegas visit the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority website at www.lasvegas.com.