Fremont Street Experience was in its infancy when Patrick Hughes hit town 20 years ago and dropped off his bags at the Days Inn at Fremont and Ninth streets.
He had no idea what this monstrous, five-block canopy with 12 million LED lights and 550,000-watt sound system was all about.
It was before lines for the Slotzilla zipline resembled Disneyland, before Spider-Man and Wonder Woman and every aspiring karaoke singer were busking for tips, back when blackjack and roulette dealers were standing with their arms crossed waiting for someone, anyone to try their luck at the tables.
The public-private partnership between the City of Las Vegas and the casinos along Fremont Street was supposed to turn Downtown into a destination again, but everybody was mourning the loss of the famous drag down one of the town’s most celebrated streets, and the stigma of Downtown was tied to the lowest of lives trying to survive in this God-forsaken city of sin.
“The environment has improved,” says Hughes, chief executive officer and president of Fremont Street Experience. “It takes time. It’s an evolution that’s still occurring.”
While the numbers aren’t exact, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority profile study showed about 14 million people, or 34 percent of total visitors for 2015, spent time in the Downtown area.
Hughes has a few capital improvements in the planning stages as Fremont Street Experience enters its third decade, including renovation of the mall surface and a canopy upgrade that will provide a multidimensional, floor-to-ceiling interactive experience touching all the senses.
He’s going to continue the strategy of collaborating shows with world-class musical acts such as Melissa Etheridge, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and Smash Mouth until the next iteration of LED technology.
“Our mission is to promote our world-class destination by being leaders in creating quality, entertaining and memorable experiences by showcasing our innovation and heritage in unique and surprising ways,” the Fremont Street Experience executive says.
Hughes is reviewing proposals from LED companies ranging from traditional marquee displays to creative producers who developed shows for the Super Bowl, Life Is Beautiful and Electric Daisy Carnival. It’ll be leading-edge technology for the next 10-15 years, he says.
Along with the next-generation Viva Vision canopy, Fremont Street Experience will promote big-revenue holidays such as St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween. This year’s New Year’s Eve party will surpass anything ever done on Fremont Street, Hughes promises.
“Our goal is to make this place shine, to make it look as good as possible and make sure it’s relevant,” he says.
Not much can be done about the street performers. The city adopted an ordinance in 2015 that assigns 38 “performer zones” along Fremont. It’s a First Amendment right to freedom of speech, fought for by the ACLU.
“The street’s environment has improved since this ordinance was adopted, and I am confident that our efforts to improve the overall experience will help float all the boats on the street,” Hughes says.