“This is the heart of the city of Las Vegas,” says Patrick Hughes, gazing across Fremont Street. Below, tourists swing their footlong Margaritas and a busker croons Lionel Richie tunes as a pair of zipliners fly by, shrieking. It’s not just a view for the new president of the Fremont Street Experience, it’s a calling. “The history and personality of this area are very important,” he says.
The Fremont Street Experience turned 20 a few months ago and, coincidentally, it’s also the 20th anniversary of Hughes’ arrival in Las Vegas—and on Fremont Street. “When I moved, I had never actually been here before. I didn’t know where to stay, I didn’t know what was good or bad or ugly,” he says. “I ended up choosing a motel on Fremont Street and Ninth Street. So when I arrived that night, [I] dropped off my bags and went out and turned right on Fremont Street and walked toward this thing.” He gestures at the Viva Vision canopy.
Fittingly for a man in charge of a street filled with casinos, the Dublin-born Hughes began his career at the craps and roulette tables. “I had traveled the world working in casinos as a dealer or manager; at the age of 24, I came to Vegas and started dealing again,” he explains. Hughes closed the Desert Inn as a roulette dealer—and immediately went to open the Resort at Summerlin as a gaming manager. He became the vice president and general manager of the Cannery, an experience that he feels relates well to his current position. “Because of its isolation, the owners needed to put a stamp on it, and entertainment was their way. So we strongly promoted that as an overall entertainment venue for North Las Vegas. And we did a lot of work in the community to get people to understand that the Cannery cares about the community. An emotional connection to the brand was created.”
“There are certain aspects and new forms of entertainment that I’d love to see, but it’d be wrong of me to come in without learning the environment first.” – Patrick Hughes
Hughes hopes to create that same kind of community and connection Downtown by expanding what Fremont Street has to offer. “One of the immediate challenges is upgrading the Viva Vision canopy itself,” he says, noting that the once cutting-edge technology is now outdated. “I’d love to see more of an interactive display up there.” He would also like to expand the Fremont Street Experience’s programming. “We are music-heavy right now—I’d love to see more interactive events. But I know there have been so many events other than pure music that have been tried on the street. I need to learn what the challenges were—the successes, the failures.”
In the first few weeks of his new gig, Hughes acknowledges that he has been doing a good bit of learning. “There are certain aspects and new forms of entertainment that I’d love to see,” he says, “but it’d be wrong of me to come in without learning the environment first. … I’m not the expert by far.”
Another aspect that can pose challenges is working with the group of casinos and casino owners who make up the Fremont Street Experience’s board—the Golden Nugget, the Golden Gate, the D, Binion’s and the Fremont are all seeking the same customers in the same market. Hughes acknowledges that “the board of directors consists of competitors. Yet there are specific goals they share. That’s really the function of the Fremont Street Experience: to create and execute events that bring more bodies down to Fremont Street.”
One of his main efforts will be making sure that visitors aren’t waiting until sundown to show up on Fremont. “As you can see, foot traffic during the day is a lot less than at night. But once the lights are turned on, people come in droves. So one of our challenges will be what can we do on the street to get more bodies here during the day. [It’ll be a matter of] getting the creative team together and really get those juices flowing—a bottle of whiskey usually does it,” he says, grinning and gesturing at a bottle of Jameson on a corner table. “Irish whiskey, of course.”
While he may still be learning the ropes of his new job, Hughes isn’t sitting on the sidelines. “There are two words I don’t like using,” he says. “One is ‘waiting’ and the other is ‘hoping,’ because if you’re waiting and hoping, nothing’s happening.” And there is a lot happening on Fremont Street. “It’s the best of the city here,” Hughes proclaims. “Come on down and join us.”