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October 21, 2014

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Joe Downtown: Tech library at Emergency Arts logs off

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Steve Marcus

The Emergency Arts building in downtown Las Vegas on Monday, June 10, 2013.

Updated Friday, Feb. 14, 2014 | 4:36 p.m.

The usr/lib, one of the first places to establish the idea that, beyond casinos and bars, downtown could be home to those interested in the tech industry, has closed.

Located on the second floor of the Emergency Arts building, 520 Fremont St., usr/lib — programming code for user library — was a library, meeting and general work space available for a $25 annual membership fee.

It contained shelves of books on coding, marketing, electronics and other topics, and provided a quiet space for people to set up their laptops and work.

A few months after it opened, usr/lib had enrolled some 400 members.

Downtown Project’s Zach Ware helped found usr/lib in late 2011. He has since helped oversee renovation of the former City Hall into Zappos.com’s headquarters, while establishing a start-up office business, Work In Progress, downtown.

Usr/lib closed, Ware said in an email to members, because “its operational costs were well in excess of what the $25/year membership could finance. The model isn’t sustainable.”

Plus, others spaces, such as Work In Progress, Syn Shop and the Gold Spike, where many people work during the day, have since cropped up.

The second-floor usr/lib practically became a necessity when “The Jelly,” which was a Thursday night gathering of coders and others working on apps and websites in The Beat, on Emergency Arts’ first floor, outgrew its space.

“Usr/lib served an amazing purpose and was critical in building the foundation of #VegasTech,” Ware wrote. “But since so many other great work and gathering places exist today that didn’t before, we sadly feel usr/lib’s time has passed and have made the tough decision to close it effective February 1st and repurpose the space for other community development uses.”

Jennifer Cornthwaite, Emergency Arts managing partner and co-founder, said the space is now occupied by First Friday Las Vegas, which puts on the monthly arts fest in the Arts District.

In the more than two years since usr/lib opened, tech business downtown has grown. Some of the tech start-up founders using Work In Progress office space receive funding from VegasTechFund, the tech investment arm of Downtown Project, established in 2012.

Ware said Work In Progress is offering current and former usr/lib members three-month Community Memberships at $50 a month. The membership offers, among other things, access to “casual worklounges.”

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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