Downtown Las Vegas launches cover-up

All the action in Las Vegas isn’t on the Strip — it never was. Faced with an abundance of activity from their Las Vegas Boulevard competitors, though, downtown casino operators are fighting back with a plan that’s colossal even by that town’s inflated standards of glitz and excess.

Construction begins this spring on a dome that will cover four blocks of Fremont Street, the main stem of downtown Las Vegas. Approximately 1,500 feet long, and 100 feet wide, the metal mesh cover will rise at its highest point 100 feet above the street — closed to vehicular traffic — and top clubs including the Nugget and Four Queens.

The mesh will allow air and precipitation through, but will include misting devices and heat strips to adjust to summer and winter climate.

“We can’t afford not to get attention alongside the MGM Grand, Luxor and Treasure Island,” says Jean Wood, chairman of Las Vegas’ Downtown Progress Assn. and ex-officio board member of the Fremont Street Experience, the office formed to supervise the renovation of downtown Las Vegas. “We’ve known this for several years, and believe that this plan has enough drama to be talked about in the same breath as the new Strip hotels.”

The Fremont Street Experience has raised $ 63 million from private and public sources, says Wood. “We’re trying to create a very unique area, linking all the (downtown) casinos together. By the time we’re finished, we’ll have 8,000 rooms, 41 restaurants and 17,000 slot machines “in a variety of venues” under the cover.

In addition, plans call for a blocklong, 1,500-space parking garage, built with city redevelopment funds, and a new 30,000-to45,000 square foot shopping area.

The dome — officially dubbed the Celestial Vault — will be lined with “millions of little reflective devices,” adds Hood, to amplify the effect of the area’s acres of neon signs. If that isn’t bright enough, a system of strobe lights is planned to be embedded in the resurfaced street.

When the project is finished, a magnetic levitation track will be suspended about 30 feet above the pedestrian level.

Running on it will be a parade of “sky floats,” each with its own engine and computerized light system. “You change the look of the floats instantaneously,” says Hood, “by changing the lights.”

Plans have been finished, Wood adds, with construction slated to begin sometime between March and May 1994, and be complete approximately a year later; the “parade” should be in action three or four months later.

“Hotels are planning renovations, creating the environment that redevelopment is supposed to do,” she concludes.

“The real-estate business at this end of town has been a real drag; people couldn’t rent or sell anything.

Now, even before construction has started, there’s a lot of activity. It’s working already.”

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