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Neonopolis and the Struggle for Downtown Success

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(Photo KXNT SamStone) The elevator tower at Neonopolis -- a retro signage gallery.

(Photo KXNT SamStone) The elevator tower at Neonopolis — a retro signage gallery.

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(Las Vegas CBS KXNT)  When Neonopolis opened in 2002, downtown Las Vegas wasn’t ready for a retail mall.  Four years later, it was abandoned to its commercial lender, which sold it to Las Vegas developer Rohit Joshi. But downtown still wasn’t ready for a retail mall in 2006, Joshi says.  Neonopolis struggled along until the recession hit. Then Joshi shuttered it  for three years.

Now Neonopolis is ready for a third launch, but retail survival downtown is still a challenge.  To meet it, Joshi has taken an unconventional approach, filling the mall with an offbeat lineup of stores and restaurants, and a nightclub complex geared to gay and lesbian clientele.

Anchor tenant Denny’s embraced Joshi’s push for an out-of-the box concept.  Acknowledging that alcohol is fundamental to success for a Las Vegas eating establishment, Denny’s agreed to incorporate cocktails, but went a step beyond, developing the world’s first Denny’s with a wedding chapel.  Heart Attack Grill (of unhealthy menu fame) has also signed on.  For the health conscious, Neonopolis will also have a restaurant featuring Mediterranean fare.

The retail success formula is less certain. Joshi is certain, however, that nobody will come downtown for a cookie-cutter shopping experience.  Instead, Neonopolis will feature a Pawn Star approach, with appraisal outposts for jewelry, toys, and sports memorabilia. To complete the destination-oriented project, a massive dance club and entertainment complex, which Joshi describes as “alternative lifestyle.”

At age 66, with 44 years in commercial real estate development, Joshi acknowledges that experience isn’t everything.  He says he’s learned a lot by listening to the people he calls “hipsters”  — trying to grasp what would attract to youthful employees of Zappos and the ancillary downtown businesses it will drive.

Neonopolis will officially open at the end of the year, 60 percent occupied.  Joshi plans to wait six months before filling the rest of the empty space, looking for exactly the right tenants.

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