Las Vegas Sun

July 30, 2014

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Students dream of new downtown

For 2 1/2 days, a group of UNLV students and professors set aside downtown Las Vegas as it is, and drew it as they thought it should be.

Art galleries, huge bingo palaces, a cruising strip, drive-through museums, government buildings and homes made up this possible city center.

Held in the stuffy, second-floor Culinary Union meeting hall, the charette was a nonstop, intensive design seminar that brainstormed ideas to improve an area that has long been neglected.

The ideas of last year's effort have influenced some decisions that city leaders have made for the downtown, a hope that organizers and students hold out for this year's product as well.

"The goal of everybody's work is to make downtown a better place," said Arnie Stalk, the charette coordinator.

Every group studying the area concluded Las Vegas needs more art galleries. One suggested turning the 5th Street School -- currently housing city offices and a police substation -- into an art gallery, and creating housing for artists nearby.

"Vegas is totally missing that," said Russ Anderson, a third-year architecture student. "We don't have a culture that we can take people to and say this is what Las Vegas is all about.

"Downtown is a prime place for that."

Other groups agreed, planning a monorail stop as a gateway to an arts district, with low-rise development on both ends of Gass Avenue and higher, three-story development in the center. Parking garages would be placed at half-block intervals off the main street to accommodate residents and business customers.

What people miss most about Fremont Street, another group concluded, was the ability to cruise. To counter that, the group proposed a cruising ride, with classic cars slowly driving down tracks on the street east of the Fremont Street Experience.

The ride would culminate in a classic car museum with a "drive in" featuring more auto classics.

"We're taking what people love about the old Vegas and shoving it in your face," said Stephanie Perrone, another third-year architecture student. "We need to say we're going to bring culture. Vegas is more that just casinos."

Along with the classic cars, Perrone's group envisioned a giant bingo hall with huge numbered balls erupting from a giant "popper," while people inside play the game.

The group kept most of the old motels on the street because "they've got some great signs out there," Perrone said. And anchoring Fremont Street they put a giant circular office tower, half casino and half offices, modeled on Los Angeles' Capitol Records building and ringed by a traffic circle. The building was envisioned as a studio city, with entertainment-related uses.

And playing on Fremont Street's light-and-sound show experience, another group decided to match all five senses to different segments of the street, with big movie theaters, an expansive outdoor dining area, a beer garden and nightclubs featuring an open plaza with views of the rest of the street.

Yet another group decided to turn Fremont Street itself into an exhibit, leaving old motels and other landmarks and installing the world's first drive-through pop-culture museum. At the end, of course: a free car wash.

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