Joe Downtown: The next Tony Hsieh? Developer snatches up dozens of properties downtown

/ Las Vegas Sun

Developer Kamran Fouladbakhsh is seen at one of his downtown properties, a former motel being converted into apartments, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.

Nibbling at the edges of Tony Hsieh’s Monopoly board of property, Kamran Fouladbakhsh is now the second-largest private landowner downtown.

Fouladbakhsh started buying properties downtown more than 10 years before Hsieh and his Downtown Project started snagging most of the available parcels around East Fremont Street two years ago. But over the past year, he has increased his purchases to a couple dozen or more.

Many of them are in or near the Arts District around Charleston Boulevard and Main Street. He owns vacant lots and parking lots near 9th Street and Stewart Avenue. Others dot the area near Ogden Avenue and 9th Street.

That’s near Fouladbakhsh’s office, which won’t be an office for long. Fouladbakhsh plans to turn it into a cafe and bakery next year.

“We don’t have a nice relaxing cafe downtown yet,” Fouladbakhsh said. “We don’t have that cafe or a good market or anything downtown — that’s what makes it so attractive.

“You can park anywhere you want down here. Across the street are 87 stalls. When I go to other places downtown, there’s no parking. Places are packed, and they are loud with music.”

Fouladbakhsh said he also plans to build affordable and luxury housing units. He sees the area as ripe for rentals because of its easy access to several freeways. The area where his land sits also has considerably less congestion than other downtown redevelopment zones.

“I have a few big lots, and we are talking to an architect to come up with the package … of how many one bedroom, two bedrooms we can fight into this property right,” he said.

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Fouladbakhsh’s family moved to the United States from Iran in the early 1970s. He chose a career as a developer and worked on projects in urban centers of large cities throughout the country.

He compares downtown Las Vegas to downtown Los Angeles when its redevelopment began more than a decade ago — with one big difference.

Click to enlarge photo

Developer Kamran Fouladbakhsh is seen at one of his downtown properties, the Ogden Executive Building, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.

In Los Angeles, there were so many homeless people “you couldn’t get into a store in the morning because so many would be sleeping in front of it,” he said.

Fouladbakhsh started buying property in downtown Las Vegas in 2000 but spent 10 years in Los Angeles before moving back here two years ago.

“It’s an unbelievable change,” he said. “Las Vegas did better than LA in cleaning up the streets. … I’ve been investing in downtowns since the early 1980s, and I can say now this is the most prime real estate outside of Los Angeles.”

Fouladbakhsh, however, still wanted to see a “spark” downtown before moving ahead full throttle.

That’s about the time Hsieh announced plans to move Zappos’ headquarters from Henderson into old City Hall. A few months later, he and investors created the $350 million Downtown Project, a private redevelopment company.

“Nobody, and I mean nobody, expected that big of a spark,” Fouladbakhsh said.

The Downtown Project’s emphasis on events and festivals, such as October’s two-day Life is Beautiful festival, has created even more interest in downtown, helping people see the area as more habitable than they had in the past.

“Bringing events is the only way downtown can survive and prosper right now,” he said. “It brings new people, young people to this area. Life is Beautiful was the best example of what the future will bring. Ninety percent of those here will be young people who will then generate revenue for bars and restaurants.”

At 813 E. Ogden Ave., Fouladbakhsh recently finished renovating an old motel into an office suite now occupied by Order With Me, a software company that moved to downtown Las Vegas from China and whose investors include the VegasTechFund, an investment arm of the Downtown Project.

Fouladbakhsh also owns 50 rental units he refurbished near Charleston Boulevard and Casino Center Drive — rents are $500 to $700 a month, and he says they are never empty — as well as a nearby building that soon will house a speakeasy. The Hawthorne recently received city approval for construction.

Further east on Fremont Street, he owns several old motels that he is renovating into rentals.

Fouladbakhsh has a mind for creating affordable units. It makes sense, he says, because the majority of people moving downtown are young.

“Talk to any young person between 20 and 35,” he said. “If they could afford to live in a luxury building and were given a few locations, from Summerlin to downtown to Henderson, where would they live? They’d live downtown because this is where there are, and will be, restaurants and bars and clubs.”

While Fouladbakhsh credits the Downtown Project with “bringing the spark that created the flame” downtown, he also plans to play a role in the area’s development. “The Downtown Project isn’t the only one fueling downtown’s growth,” he said. “They made a huge difference. But I’m not here because of them. I’ve been here. And I knew sooner or later, they would come.”

Map of downtown property owners

Blue properties are owned by the Downtown Project and related companies. Red properties are owned by Fouladbakhsh's company.

Kyle B. Hansen

Tags: News, Business
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Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown; he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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