Mrs. Mayor: Tear Down That Canopy

Want to make the Fremont Street Experience safer? Return it to the public


What can be done to improve safety at the Fremont Street Experience?

The recent challenges at the Fremont Street Experience—from violent attacks to alcohol-related problems—stem from the Experience’s status as a private space that seems to be a public one.

To understand this, we need to take a look back: Before it was a pedestrian mall, Fremont Street was a public street, open to vehicular traffic. It was as bright at midnight as it was at noon and was the primary source of Vegas lights for film and television. It was also a longtime cruising spot for Sin City teenagers. That was back when teens drove cars, and when finding a date by yelling at them from a primer-painted mini-truck wasn’t considered “creepy.” But I digress.

Fremont between Main Street and the Strip closed for good on September 7, 1994, and the Experience that replaced it was funded by both private and public money. The City midwifed the project by acquiring private land via eminent domain (for that big red parking garage); meanwhile, a private company, Fremont Street Experience LLC, was formed by the casinos along Glitter Gulch. Today, that company operates all of the quasi-public space under the canopy.

So, what does all this mean? The Experience exists in a cultural and institutional gray area: To visitors, it appears to be a public street. But, because it is privately run, it is policed more like a big suburban mall than like, say, the Strip sidewalk. This is true despite court rulings that protect “freedom of speech activities” (handbilling, protesting) at the Experience. And, just as in a mall, the primary source of FSE peacekeeping is a private security force. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is far more likely to patrol as a deterrent along a public street with public sidewalks (see: Fremont East) than on private property, where they usually come only after a problem arises.

So now, back to your question. (No, I haven’t forgotten you.) How would I solve the mess this public-private gray area has created? Well, I’d do something radical: Tear down the canopy, return the street to the public trust (thereby eliminating private security), and do as they do on Bourbon Street: Close Fremont Street to vehicular traffic every weekend (from Main to 8th streets, perhaps), and heavily populate it with Metro foot and equestrian patrols.