At a company-wide meeting in fall 2012, Hsieh took the stage with four other jeans-wearing Zappos execs. During an open question period, a young woman stood and praised the company for embracing Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest before other online retailers. “What’s the next big social media platform we should watch for?” she asked.
Hsieh paused for a moment, then answered. “Well, there’s this thing called downtown. It gets people together. It may seem crazy,” he said, “but five years from now it won’t.”
The next morning, I meet Hsieh for breakfast at Eat. Natalie Young is again circulating and greeting everyone, and the place is again brimming with diners, locals mostly.
Hsieh points through the window to a vacant lot across the street, where the Downtown Project is scheduled to break ground soon for Container Park. The public space will consist of a lawn for outdoor performances ringed by repurposed shipping containers where retailers and restaurants will set up shop. The park will serve as a place where businesses can try out new ideas that then move into other downtown spaces; some of the businesses will set up permanent homes in the park itself.
After breakfast, we walk several blocks to the Fashion Lab, a warehouse sparely furnished with sewing machines, design tables, and dress dummies. It’s also getting the support of the Downtown Project, with the goal of making it a space where independent designers can cluster, collaborate, and create.
We head over to an empty shell of a restaurant that the Downtown Project recently snapped up, then walk by a low-slung old motel. “We bought that too,” Hsieh says. There’s a man on the roof wrangling a long tape measure. Hsieh notices him and laughs. The building came with no plans or schematics, he says, so they’re trying to figure out what exactly they bought before coming up with ideas for what to do with it.
Which strikes me as a perfect way to understand downtown Las Vegas today. It’s a city plotting a future and sketching out a blueprint as it goes, fueled by boundless optimism about what lies ahead.