For nearly a decade, Neonopolis has been a 250,000-square-foot nightmare on Fremont Street. At last count, it had a grand total of three tenants—Telemundo, Del Prado Jewelers and the Southern Nevada Museum of Fine Art. It didn’t help that the shopping and entertainment center spent much of the past two years without air-conditioning. But now Denny’s is on the way, marching in with its arsenal of sausage to help save Neonopolis and provide common downtown ground for Fremont Street Experience tourists and Fremont East hipsters.
The ubiquitous family restaurant chain signed a 20-year lease on June 14 that will place it on the ground floor of the three-story complex with direct exposure to Fremont Street foot traffic.
But the enormity of Neonopolis’ failures—remember Jillian’s, anyone?—proves that building it doesn’t mean they’ll come, even if you happen to have built on one of the busiest tourist corners in Vegas. As for the downtown locals crowd, well, they’ve been beaten down by hard promises before, so forgive them if they choose to ignore this one—for now.
“I hadn’t put much thought into it. My first impression is that it won’t have much of an impact,” says Michael Cornthwaite, owner of the Downtown Cocktail Room and Emergency Arts. “I guess Denny’s is better than an empty space.”
But Rohit Joshi, who purchased the perpetually struggling Neonopolis in 2006 for $25 million and has been accused of preferring to keep the place vacant, is convinced this is a noteworthy move. After years of bad news—the A/C snafu that helped doom Galaxy Theatres and Vegas Rocks Café, the flopped attempt to land the Star Trek: The Experience exhibit—Denny’s appears to be the good news Joshi has been waiting for. Once the restaurant attracts new foot traffic, he says, he can start filling the center out with regional businesses and local indie stores. “I think this is the right time for us. For the next year, we will be opening various segments of this project.”
There’s little doubt that Denny’s can draw the guy from Iowa walking from the canopy and swilling beer from a plastic football, but it may also have the ironic appeal to entice hipsters over from the Griffin and Insert Coin(s). That’s right: Denny’s could be the long-awaited spot where Skinny Jeans Dude and Uncle Bermuda Shorts belly up for Moons Over My Hammy.
“There’s nothing more Middle America than Denny’s,” Cornthwaite says. “It’s recognizable; it’s familiar. To me, that will serve the Fremont Street Experience far more than it will serve Fremont East. But at the same time, at 4 or 5 a.m. they will get plenty of locals stumbling over from Fremont East.”