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The Intersection

[Downtown]

Identity Crisis?

Nearly a year after its debut, Fremont East is hanging on, even if it means trying to forget its skanky past

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Photo: Jacob Kepler

Sometimes finding—and shedding—an identity is tough, especially when that identity is a gateway to drugs, sex and debauchery only yards away from nearly a dozen successful locals joints.

But for the tenants and patrons that fuel the economy of the Fremont East Entertainment District, otherwise known as Fremont East, identity can be the make-or-break factor.

“Things certainly are better … than they were last year,” says Beauty Bar manager Bree Blumstein. The bar, one of the first businesses to be revamped in the area east of Las Vegas Boulevard, has seen an increase in business since city officials in August concluded a $5.5 million street renovation and street-side signage project that officially christened the now-seemingly cleaned-up district.

But Blumstein admits that tourists still see it as a no-man’s land. “The idea around it was that people wouldn’t stop and turn around at Las Vegas Boulevard,” Blumstein says. “But I don’t think that’s happened. I don’t get a lot of tourist traffic.”

In fact, everyone from the old-time juggernaut casino the El Cortez, which just completed a $26 million renovation, to the stylish, 18-month-old Downtown Cocktail Room admits that businesses thrive and survive based on local dollars.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, says City of Las Vegas Senior Economic Development Officer Rich Atkins, who oversees the area and tries to find interested investors for vacant businesses in the district. Atkins says that while luring tourists to the area—a Bourbon Street-type scenario—is desired, making spots for locals to enjoy is also key. Bottom line: If people feel safe, they spend money.

“We’re trying to make it a place for locals,” Atkins says. “But we’re also trying to reach out to people to tell them that there is actually a downtown.”

Unfortunately, though, to many locals, stigmas and scenes of crack alleys, prostitution, crime and drugs still haunt the area—sometimes within eyeshot of the businesses fighting to revamp their image. But that’s something Downtown Cocktail Room owner Michael Cornwaithe feels can be improved with some remodeling and smart re-branding by business owners.

But still, while businesses get situated in the area slowly, it’s easy—in a city with its lightning-fast construction projects—to be impatient and write off lack of progress as failure. “You can’t turn around an area in just two years,” Cornwaithe says. “It’s going to take 10 years to do it … but everyone here wants more bars; we all want that.”

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Aaron Thompson

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