As 2014 begins, what’s next for downtown Las Vegas?

“Zarkana” cast members perform on Fremont Street during Life Is Beautiful Day 1 on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013.

By the end of 2014, parts of downtown Las Vegas will look much different than they do now.

Old motels and hotels surrounded by Keep-Out fencing will be refurbished and transformed for new uses. Ground is expected to be broken on much needed mid- and high-rise residential projects. Developers, triggered by Zappos’ move into old City Hall and the Downtown Project’s recent property grab, will likely move into parts of the neighborhood that barely got a look before.

On the flip side, while redevelopment will continue, it might not come as quickly as some might expect.

Dan Palmeri, an office specialist with the commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield Commerce, fields calls from businesses that want to move downtown to get away from the blandness of the suburbs. But their office space needs are larger than anything available in the area.

Large contiguous tracts of land around East Fremont Street have been purchased by the Downtown Project, but the developers don’t appear to be interested in raising office buildings.

“I love what the Downtown Project is doing, but there’s going to come a point that what they’re doing with the available land is not conducive to creating a true, urban environment,” Palmeri said. “You need to build up and go vertical, because there are only so many parcels.”

If Fremont Street redevelopment slows a bit, however, that could bode well for less-publicized efforts in the Arts District, roughly a mile to the southwest. If Fremont Street gets locked up, developers hellbent on pursuing projects downtown are expected to head west.

Several projects already have been proposed for the Arts District, including a movie theater and a mid-rise residential-office building complex.

Terry Murphy, owner of Strategic Solutions consulting, seconds Palmeri’s feeling that the Arts District could be the next frontier.

“I think that’s where you will see more commercial activity and retail,” she said.

She also believes Commerce Street will get more attention.

Click to enlarge photo

Guest gamble at the craps table during the opening of the Downtown Grand Las Vegas Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas Sunday, October 27, 2013.

“You’re going to see the seed of a very interesting little district — more entertainment-related — because of the buildings, which are warehouses and that kind of thing,” Murphy said. “There might even be residential over there, if it’s far enough away from the railroad.”

Murphy also expects 2014 to be the year the city delves more seriously into a downtown master plan that considers connectivity, public spaces and zoning.

Brand Wiegand, a broker at Focus Commercial Properties, said residential development downtown would be great, but maybe not yet. Developers still have to figure out “how to get something out of the ground that makes sense,” Wiegand said. “Rents have to be higher to make that work.”

Will people pay $2 a square foot to rent an apartment downtown when they can get similar space in the suburbs for $1?

While downtown is the second-densest employment area in the valley — the Strip is the first — Wiegand isn’t sure that a 20-minute drive from Summerlin or Henderson is so daunting that people will pay more to live there.

That’s why the Downtown Project’s efforts to bring in bars, restaurants and retail plazas like Container Park are so important, he said. Creating an environment that’s lacking in the suburbs could help tenants overcome wariness about higher rents.

What else is on the horizon for 2014?

• A downtown developer expects about 1,000 new residential units to be built over the next 24 months. Offerings will include high rises, mid-rises and micro-apartments. They will be aimed at locals, not tourists, unlike the high rises of the early 2000s.

• The Downtown Project’s march eastward on Fremont Street is expected to include repurposing the Ferguson Motel, 1028 Fremont St.; the John E. Carson hotel, 124 S. 6th St.; and the Eden Inn, 120 S. 6th St. The motels will be transformed into bars, galleries, restaurants, offices and retail space.

• A flurry of entertainment venues are anticipated for the area near 10th and 11th streets.

• Expect the return of the Bunkhouse before the middle of the year. This bar-club was bought by the Downtown Project, which expected to reopen it within weeks. But it had so many structural issues, developers had to gut and rebuild it. It is slated to open in the second quarter of the year.

• A long-awaited grocery store is planned for an empty storefront on Fremont Street between 6th and 7th streets near El Cortez.

• There’s talk of a trolley that would travel from Las Vegas Boulevard to Maryland Parkway.

• PublicUs, a “fresh American” restaurant at Maryland Parkway and Fremont Street, is expected to open in the coming months.

• Banger Brewing is scheduled to open in Neonopolis, and another brewery is planned for farther east on Fremont Street.

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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