Downtown Las Vegas: Where It Is and What It Needs Most

Ryan Olbrysh

Photo by Ryan Olbrysh

Recently, this column drew a broad picture of Downtown Las Vegas by way of boundaries extending from Sahara Avenue to Washington Avenue and from Maryland Parkway to Valley View Boulevard. Some readers took issue that this description was too expansive. “No person ever in Twin Lakes would say they live in Downtown … people who have lived in those neighborhoods for 30 to 40 years do not consider it Downtown,” wrote one.

I’m sure they don’t. Then again, 30 to 40 years ago, the western edge of Las Vegas was Rainbow Boulevard, and just beyond that was the desert where local teens partied, Dazed and Confused–style. But this isn’t 1977, and the city covers a much larger area today. So I’m sticking with my “greater Downtown” boundaries, for a variety of reasons. One of the more practical ones has to do with something social scientists call “underserved populations.”

At a recent Downtown Las Vegas Alliance symposium (“Successes & Insights on Downtown Residential Living”), urban redeveloper Peter Cummings noted four things that urban residential requires, in order of importance: safety and security; places to buy groceries; an institutional presence (governmental, educational, health care); and proximity to culture and the arts. In Downtown, safety has improved dramatically, UNLV’s Medical School is about to welcome its first class (while the architecture school has been chugging along for years) and the Smith Center has cemented the area as the cultural heart of our city.

But grocery stores? Ugh. Several nearby supermarkets have cut hours or closed altogether, while the closest Trader Joe’s Decatur will soon “relocate” its central valley store about 10 miles to the northwest. At the symposium, it was half-jokingly mentioned that the day a Whole Foods opens in Downtown will be a great day for redevelopment (because, I suppose, everyone likes $10 butter).

But here’s an interesting observation: For anyone living near Rancho Drive and Charleston Boulevard (near the Medical District), Whole Foods is about 7 miles away. The Arts District? It’s less than 2 miles. Here’s where a broadly drawn Downtown can help. By including the homes within a 4-mile radius of Main and Fremont streets, you add roughly 150,000 residents to the 41,000 living in the 89101 zip code, according to That’s a true urban slice, stretching from inexpensive studios to the pricey high-rises, from the modest bungalows of the Huntridge to the multimillion-dollar mansions of Pinto Lane. All of them need groceries, and all of them are far closer to Downtown than they are to Summerlin.

Mission? Attract a grocer that appeals to this varied demographic. Build it somewhere walkable for the high-rises and studios, drivable for the outliers (with a modest parking lot), and include a bike rack and a shuttle stop. Now that’s a “greater” Downtown! 

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