Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2008 | 2 a.m.
For years, the hulking downtown retail structure called Neonopolis has remained mostly empty, save for a restaurant and pool hall anchoring one ground floor corner, and a sparsely attended movie theater complex on its top floor.
It was the great hope of downtown redevelopment when it opened in May 2002, and by most accounts it had failed. Long-promised restaurants and night life venues never materialized. Some businesses came, fell flat and left. Dozens of others resisted moving there in the first place.
At least that used to be the story.
The 250,000-square-foot, $100 million, box-shaped mall may finally be fulfilling its potential. In the process, a symbol of downtown Las Vegas’ difficulties could become a sign of its growing viability.
Neonopolis seems to be attracting so much attention at once that Mayor Oscar Goodman — who in the past has noted the project was launched by a previous administration — was moved to dance around his chair at a recent City Council meeting.
“Neonopolis, as I’ve always characterized it, has been my albatross,” Goodman said at an Oct. 30 news conference. “I’ve had to live with it, but I was never happy with what was happening there.
“As I stand here today, it could be the tipping point as far as success down there.”
There’s a new sandwich shop and a sushi restaurant on the ground floor. An upscale Italian restaurant and a swank new lounge for young hipsters are to open next month.
One flight up are the Southern Nevada Museum of Fine Art, with a large and modern gallery space, and the Southern Nevada Center for the Arts. Three of Galaxy’s movie screens on the top floor are to be converted into theater space.
According to the owner’s representative, Rohit Joshi, one of his plans since coming to Neonopolis in mid-2006 was to attract a financially stable “name” tenant, to help convince businesses that it was a viable site to consider. He’s found two.
Telemundo, the Spanish-language television station, has announced plans for 20 employees to occupy 17,500 square feet on the third floor, including a broadcasting studio, as well as fancy new LED video screens and satellite dishes on the roof.
Perhaps most impressive, the attraction called Star Trek: The Experience appears also to be coming to Neonopolis. Plans are to retrofit a large amount of space on the first floor to allow for rides, as well as a Trek-themed restaurant and museum.
The Trek attraction ended an 11-year run at the Las Vegas Hilton in September.
When asked whether developments at Neonopolis were proof that downtown redevelopment generally was turning the corner, Goodman said at his Oct. 30 weekly news conference: “We’re doing phenomenally.
“In this market, it’s incredible how much interest we have in the downtown.”
The fast-talking Joshi said it’s gratifying to have his hard work on the project finally seem to be paying off.
He’s also happy that the city, which has more than $30 million invested in the land underneath Neonopolis and the parking garage there, believes a successful Neonopolis will be a bellwether for a revitalized downtown.
“If it used to be an albatross around the mayor’s neck, I think it’s becoming a necklace,” Joshi said between laughs.