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Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: The boundaries of Downtown Las Vegas are as fluid as its reputation

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Where’s downtown? The City of Las Vegas says it’s within the yellow area.
Illustration: Marvin Lucas

Where is Downtown Las Vegas? That depends on who you ask, and why you’re asking.

If a murder happens at Sahara and Eastern, should the newspapers say it occurred “Downtown”? What if that murder was in the Scotch 80s, that tony urban enclave just west of the I-15? Is the Scotch 80s Downtown?

Then again, why would anyone care?

We all care about directions. Knowing an area, being able to talk about its streets or navigate a city and know it by its landmarks is a sign of ownership, even mastery.

Knowing Downtown Las Vegas and what it entails becomes even more important as it rapidly changes. Businesses want to be sure they aren’t being identified as operating in a crime-ridden area; more and more, Downtown homeowners are taking pride in their neighborhoods, as the good begins to blot out some of the historic bad.

Much of the complaint about locales stems from newspaper headlines. A recent headline, for instance, about a shooting death at Bonanza Road and Martin Luther King Boulevard stated it happened “near Downtown.” But the headline stirred a pot of gripes. It’s unfair, said those who have taken online kvetching to a near-art form, because Bonanza and MLK are less Downtown and more in “historic” West Las Vegas (a 3.5-square-mile area near the Spaghetti Bowl but north of the 95.)

And what about crime “in Summerlin” or “near Summerlin”? Not too long ago, a woman near Vegas and Buffalo drives was accused of drowning her 3-year-old in the bathtub. If Vegas and Buffalo isn’t Summerlin, it’s certainly near Summerlin, but just try finding a TV newscast or newspaper headline about that incident with the word “Summerlin,” near or not, in it.

Is that unfair to Downtown?

Former Mayor Oscar Goodman often boasted of living Downtown. I used to walk early mornings with him years ago during one of his attempts to shed a few pounds, and the mayor would proclaim that both he and I lived “Downtown,” though my home is closer to Maryland Parkway and Charleston Boulevard, about two miles east. Living in Downtown Las Vegas, too, has become a badge of pride for some. Saying you live there at once evokes images of grittiness, nostalgia, authenticity and Vegas ownership. Saying you live in Summerlin is, well, meh.

But again, where, exactly, is Downtown?

James Reza, who runs Globe Salon Downtown and has lived there most of his life, says the boundary keeps changing as Vegas expands and new people ascribe new definitions.

“When I was growing up, I lived at Rancho [Boulevard] and Mesquite [Avenue], and that wasn’t Downtown,” he says. “Now people have changed that perception. People in Green Valley or Summerlin say, well, Springs Preserve [at Alta Drive and Valley View Boulevard] is Downtown, as well. I never considered that Downtown. But Vegas is wider and bigger now and other people do.”

He’s fine with that—to a point.

What raised his eyebrows, he says, was seeing a headline identifying an SUV/pedestrian accident at 28th Street and Bonanza Road as “Downtown.” If you take Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont Street as a starting point, that’s about two miles east. That doesn’t quite feel like Downtown to him.

Maybe the City of Las Vegas has a better handle on the boundaries. Spokesman Jace Radke said the city generally defines Downtown this way: “East of Interstate 15, south of Washington Avenue, north of Sahara Avenue, and west of Maryland Parkway.”

That means I live Downtown, but Oscar does not. Neither does Reza, who lives closer to University Medical Center.

It also means that Downtown is fluid. It isn’t master-planned. It doesn’t have defined boundaries or walls or gates.

That’s why people live here. If they want the alternative, Green Valley and Summerlin await.

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