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Fremont Street Experience looking up, as crowds, live music return

Fremont Street Experience wants to make up for lost time.

The downtown entertainment district turned 25 years old last year, but the pandemic foiled any plans of a birthday party. There’s much more for the district to celebrate this year, and celebrate it will, Fremont Street Experience executives said.

And with good reason, they said.

Full-size crowds and live music are back on Fremont Street for the first time in more than a year, and FSE executives say the party is just getting started. The Fremont Street Experience brought back its “Downtown Rocks” free concert series after a 15-month pandemic hiatus. The series launched essentially the moment it was allowed, 12:01 a.m. June 1, when COVID-19 crowd and capacity limits lifted across the state.

“We expect this year to be better than any year in our history,” Fremont Street Experience CEO Andrew Simon said last week. “I mean, the crowds we were starting to see immediately on June 1st and the activity and the liveliness and the people that are coming — it’s as good as it’s ever been out here.”

Multiple traditional tourism indicators suggest that people are returning to downtown, though there’s more room to grow. Hotel occupancy rates downtown were 55.1 percent in April, up from 47.6 percent in March but still down significantly from the 87.5 rate reported in April 2019, according to the most recent data from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Nearly 2.6 million people visited the Las Vegas Valley in April, a 15.4-percent increase over March. April 2019 saw more than 3.5 million visitors, according to authority statistics.

Though the latest visitor data is not yet available, neighboring casinos “have never been happier than the last month of what we’re doing” as demand ramps up for entertainment and music, according to Simon, who was named the entertainment district’s top executive in September. Free, live music was a major missing element of the Fremont Street Experience during 2020

Requests seeking comment from representatives at downtown hotels and hotel operators — Boyd Gaming Corp., Plaza, Golden Gate, The D Las Vegas and Circa — were not returned.

As far as music goes, “there’s nobody that can complain they’re getting charged too much to come on down to Fremont Street and have a good time,” he said.

Nine concerts remain on the calendar this year including 3 Doors Down with Seether, George Thorogood & the Destroyers and a July 4 concert featuring Craig Morgan and Clay Walker.

Downtown Las Vegas has benefitted from major investments in recent years, Simon said. He cited Derek Stevens’ Circa resort, Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project and the Fremont Street Experience’s own canopy upgrades.

Looking for the next big thing

Now, the district is identifying its next big attraction to bring people downtown, Simon said. He noted executives are exploring partnerships with “some of the bigger technology companies out there” to make the most out of existing investments, though he decline to divulge anything further.

“We’re talking $20- to $50- million investments that we would want to develop without everybody knowing what we’re up to,” Simon said, “but it is something we’re always looking at to try to stay ahead of the game.”

Fremont Street Experience executives are exploring ways to keep things fresh. One such focus is creating custom events from scratch or based on existing holidays, such as a “Drinkgsiving” event coming the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, said Paul McGuire, chief marketing officer.

Plans toward the end of the year call for a celebration of the history of Fremont Street and a return to some semblance of normalcy, McGuire said. The event will likely fold in with New Year’s Eve festivities and coincide with the district’s 26th birthday.

Also debuting at a time yet to be determined this year is a new light show for the hourly shows on the experience’s 1,375-foot-long Viva Vision LED canopy, he said.

His goal is to make the canopy a more interactive experience for the people who walk beneath it. McGuire said Fremont Street Experience is brainstorming how to best take advantage of the canopy’s recent $32-million upgrades. They’re toying around with gender reveals, marriage proposals and, among other things, something similar to a Magic Eight Ball feature, McGuire said.

“That’s the direction that we’re going because that’s where the technology is going,” he said.

The entertainment district has held various hiring events in recent months to accommodate growing demand. Most recently, the district hosted an event where applicants interviewed, ziplined across the SlotZilla attraction and learned whether they got the job — in that order. The experience is still hiring in anticipation of large summer crowds, Simon said.

Contact Mike Shoro at mshoro@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290. Follow @mike_shoro on Twitter.

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