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October 23, 2014

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Joe Downtown:

Joe Downtown: One bad side effect of downtown resurgence — barricades may be permanent fixture on First Friday nights

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Leila Navidi

Metro Officer Jason Deel patrols in the Fremont East District on Friday, July 5, 2013.

Cattle barricades might be coming to the Fremont Street Experience. If you don’t like that, blame downtown’s resurgent popularity.

First a little background.

For reasons people aren’t quite sure about, east Fremont Street has become a magnet for on-street drinking and partyers on the first Friday night of the month, the same night of the aptly named First Friday art walk a mile away.

The crowds, drinking and fears of violence have become so great, Metro Police showed up Sept. 6 in force and added cattle barricades to keep people off the streets and confined to the sidewalks.

As a result, street drinking was virtually non-existent and only a handful of arrests were made.

At the same time, however, many of those who decided against mingling in an area flooded with police shimmied just a few blocks west to drink and hang out under the canopied Fremont Street Experience, where casinos such as the Horseshoe and the Golden Nugget reside.

Consequently, the Experience crowd was so large, one source said, it was reminiscent of the overflow masses who gather there on New Year’s Eve. Police arrested almost 80 people under the canopy Sept. 6, with a reminder that just a few months earlier a nonfatal shooting took place there, also on a First Friday night.

With that in mind — and because Metro will maintain a strong presence and the barricades on east Fremont Street at the next first Friday night, Oct. 4 — Fremont Street Experience businesses are looking into changing the street flow that night, said Jeff Victor, Experience president and general manager.

Barricades, similar to those erected on New Year’s Eve, are being considered, though Capt. Shawn Andersen of Metro’s Downtown Area Command said nothing has been finalized.

“We’re talking about a lot of different ideas,” he said today.

The resurgence of downtown is a few years in the making, with the Downtown Project becoming a $350 million redevelopment force less than two years ago. In that time, a handful of restaurants and bars have opened within the first few blocks of Fremont Street east of Las Vegas Boulevard. More is on the way. The Downtown Project has the Container Park expected to open in November; it is also rehabbing an old hotel at Sixth Street and Carson Avenue to become home to a variety of businesses.

Other development plans are also in various stages of moving ahead.

Downtown on the first friday of the month has been a popular locals destination for years. But it has become more popular than ever over the course of about the past seven months.

To deal with the flood of people, Metro has experimented with a variety of measures, using police on horseback, undercover, uniformed and, most recently, the barricades with several police cars parked at the curb.

The barricades and parked cars led to some muttering the words “police state.” And while some businesses and employees said it hurt their foot traffic, others said it seemed to increase the number of paying customers.

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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