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Alan Snel

Las Vegas' Downtown Project reverses course

14 November 2015

It looks like Downtown Project, Tony Hsieh's downtown redevelopment initiative, has a heart after all.

After Downtown Project's Container Park gave an eviction notice to an eyeglass business owner on Wednesday, a top Downtown Project official said Friday the tenant has four weeks to work with a marketing consultant at no cost to see if he could salvage his business.

"We need to be more humane," said Mark Rowland, CEO of DTP Ventures, which oversees Downtown Container Park and Downtown Project's other businesses such as The Market and Gold Spike.

"He's not there all by himself," Rowland said in a phone interview with the Review-Journal Friday. "There's a team of people to brainstorm ideas with him."

Rowland said he has offered Eric Healey, owner of Monocle Optical, a four-week extension to work with marketing consultant ROCeteer and see whether his eyeglass business is viable.

Healey said he will take Rowland up on his offer.

"It gives me a breath of life," said Healey, 32 of, Las Vegas, who started his eyeglass business on the third level of Container Park earlier this year with $200,000. The business name, Monocle Optical, is based on Healey having only one eye after he lost an eye from a BB gun injury at age 8.

On Wednesday night, Doug McPhail, Downtown Project director of retail operations, and Caroline Moriarty, a Container Park management staffer, gave a notice to Healey to either pay $8,860 in back rent or vacate by next week. Healey said there is so little foot traffic on the third (top) level of Container Park that he doesn't even generate half of his monthly expenses of $5,600, including $2,400 in rent.

"One of the most common conversations I've had with people is that most people say they love Container Park," Healey said. "Then I tell people I work at Container Park and they ask, 'Where is your office?' I tell them it's on the third floor and they look at me, tilt their head and ask, "There's a third floor?' "

Rowland read a Review-Journal story Friday regarding complaints by Container Park tenants, including Healey, who voiced concerns that they are being hit with $75 fines for not being in their stores at all hours and that Container Park does not adequately drive customers to the third level of the commercial center built with more than 40 repurposed shipping containers.

Rowland said a shopping center cannot survive with tenants not paying rents, but he said he wants Downtown Project tenants to work with the marketing consultant for free to brainstorm ideas to make their businesses financially sustainable.

Before Healey received his reprieve from Rowland Friday, he launched a GoFundMe account to raise the $8,860 for the past rent. As of 5:45 p.m. Friday, four people had donated $150.

Rowland said that during this four-week extension, it's up to Healey to work with the marketing consultant to determine at the end of the four weeks a reasonable amount of money to pay in back rent based on the business' viability.

While Rowland reached out to Healey in an effort to see whether his Container Park can be saved, there still are the concerns of third-level tenants in the commercial center who argue that there is not enough customers and foot traffic on the top level to make their businesses profitable.

Several third-level and former tenants said the elevator that serves the top level also breaks down when it rains, inhibiting people from reaching their businesses.

After finding out about the faulty elevator from the Review-Journal, the state Department of Business and Industry dispatched an inspector to Container Park at 707 Fremont St. on Friday to check out the elevator and its maintenance history.

By coincidence, Container Park management also held a tenants meetings Friday morning to discuss issues, and there was tension in the air when talk surfaced about Friday's Review-Journal story.

Healey said Downtown Project has to work on getting people to visit not only the ground-level businesses but the top-level ones, too.