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Caitlin McGarry

Downtown3rd brand ties restaurants, bars, casino

30 May 2012

The Third Street corridor between Ogden and Stewart avenues on weekend evenings bustles with activity.

Motorcycles idle at the entrance to Hogs and Heifers, barhoppers sip Prohibition-era cocktails at Mob Bar and well-dressed guests take in dinner at Triple George before heading to the Smith Center for the Performing Arts for a show.

Fifth Street Gaming, headed by CEO Seth Schorr, has curated the concentration of activity on Third Street in an effort to cultivate a customer base for the under-construction Downtown Grand hotel and casino, which is scheduled to open early next year in the former shell of the Lady Luck. Fifth Street Gaming operates the Downtown Grand for owner CIM Group.

Now, Fifth Street Gaming is aiming to create a community around its casino, much like the nearby El Cortez has done by leasing space to Emergency Arts and sponsoring the Vegas StrEATs food truck festival.

"Building a hotel takes time, takes years," Schorr said. "I wanted to do something today to leverage this amazing restaurant, Triple George ... I knew we were going to convert Sidebar into Mob Bar. I knew we were going to do these great street events. I knew we were going to do a farmer's market. I wanted to be able to market in a holistic way."

The Third Street corridor is the artery running through what the company has dubbed Downtown3rd, a privately owned, walkable district of retail, dining and entertainment options that will cover five blocks around Third Street.

"Ultimately, when we open the Downtown Grand next year and I say it's at Downtown3rd, people already know what that is," Schorr said.

Downtown3rd now has just a handful of businesses, but Schorr expects the district to feature 18 lounges and restaurants when all is said and done. Pizza Rock, a dining concept out of Sacramento, Calif., this summer will begin construction at the old Celebrity Theater space on the corner of Third and Ogden. The pizzeria will feature tattooed breakdancing, pizza-tossing employees to amp up its entertainment value.

Retail concepts and an events center are also in the works for the area around the district's "crown jewel," the Mob Museum.

But the project at the center of Downtown3rd's development is also standing in its way. The empty husks of what was once the Lady Luck casino loom darkly over the district's businesses. Though construction work hums along inside the towers, there are no lights on, nothing to indicate the activity thriving on Third Street.

"No matter how lively the street is, you see these two dark towers. To [tourists], it might as well say, 'Street's closed. Do not enter,'" Schorr said. "I found that the towers are my biggest obstacle to open restaurants."

Fifth Street Gaming in July plans to launch a major campaign to let passers-by know that Third Street is open for business. The towers will be lit and draped with vinyl banners advertising the Downtown3rd brand.

After designating the district and overseeing the February opening of the Mob Museum, Schorr turned toward the empty bus terminal near Casino Center Drive and U.S. 95. The copper-domed building cried out for a farmer's market, Schorr said, and so he enlisted the help of "intuitive forager" Kerry Clasby, who sources produce for some of the city's top restaurants.

The farmer's market opened in March and is a key component to the district's development. Schorr envisions Downtown3rd as an authentic urban environment that will draw tourists who want to go where locals go.

"The high-end tourist today wants a farmer's market," Clasby said, pointing to the now-famous Ferry Plaza farmer's market at San Francisco's Embarcadero.

"It was a rehab project much like this [at the bus terminal]," she said. "It was the Farmer's market that started it. What happens long-term with Fifth Street Gaming, I foresee us being apart of that."

The market draws up to 2,000 people on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Urban planners have set their sights on reimagining the downtown landscape. Flinn Fagg, the city's planning director, said Fifth Street Gaming's vision for Downtown3rd makes sense in the greater scheme of downtown redevelopment.

Pedestrian-friendly streets, a farmer's market and a museum are starting points.

"When you have properties redevelop, you want to look at how you can improve what was there previously," Fagg said.

The isolated Lady Luck struggled to draw tourists away from Fremont Street. Schorr expects Downtown3rd to change that.

"This street's going to be activated in a way that is so far superior to what was here when it was Lady Luck that it's going to be a draw in and of itself," he said.