Troubled Tony Hsieh should be remembered with respect on Fremont Street By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports December 9, 2020 at 7:34 pm Think of the history of downtown Las Vegas, and a few names spring to the forefront of any conversation. Cowboy Benny Binion is there, so is Jackie Gaughan. And there’s Sam Boyd and Steve Wynn. And don’t forget Mel Exber and Kell Houssels. I’ve left out plenty, but you get the type. Some of the influences were more lettered than others, but they all brought the ability to put their money down and let it rip on Fremont Street with competition all around and the public increasingly distracted by the electricity of Las Vegas Boulevard. Truth was, downtown had been in the shadow of the Strip for decades. It’s hardly a secret. And there’s no turning back the clock. Tony Hsieh The Fremont Street Experience with its gaudy canopy was widely criticized when it was financed and first opened, but I think even those critics – and I was one – have to admit that through the years it has served a purpose. Namely, to give tourists an excuse to go back downtown and give it another try. Two decades ago, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman appeared to be leading a parade of one for downtown redevelopment and for having faith in the future of something called Symphony Park. It looked like the Union Pacific railyard to those of us who had grown up around downtown. Change came slowly. But damned if it didn’t come. It was like that when Tony Hsieh decided to move his Zappos center and its more than 1,000 employees from Henderson to the well-worn Las Vegas City Hall with bigger dreams of reinventing downtown into a place where people actually wanted to work and live and be cool. He sounded like a big dreamer, and frankly, I didn’t understand everything he was talking about. But he had something in common with downtown’s casino dreamers even though he might not have been able to shuffle a deck of Bicycles. He had ideas and a bankroll, more than $350 million by some counts. He brought tremendous energy and a willingness to see things that others couldn’t. And, let’s face it, creativity guys always sound more interesting when there’s a bankroll behind them. When Hsieh died recently at age 46 of injuries suffered in a house fire in Connecticut, the wind went out of a lot of people. In a long, miserable year of suffering, he had been suffering, too, with drug and emotional issues that as it turns out many people knew about. There will be plenty of mystery about Hsieh’s life and troubled final days, and some excellent reporting has painted a more tragic portrait of the man who said he wanted to bring happiness and friendly “collisions” to downtown and grow a community from the ground up of the careworn corridor. His eccentricity and personal demons make him not so different from many casino titans and other big dreamers who decided to stake their claim in the shifting sands of Las Vegas. In a place whose gambling forefathers sometimes died violently, or like Howard Hughes was cloaked in mystery, he wasn’t such a stranger in a strange land, after all. I suspect the full impact of Hsieh’s audacious presence downtown won’t be fully understood for years, and that’s all right. It was that way with Bugsy Siegel, Moe Dalitz, Hughes, and Wynn. Their influence on business, design, and understanding of what the traffic will bear continues. He didn’t cut a card and only rolled the dice metaphorically speaking, but troubled Tony Hsieh put his bankroll on the line and will always be one of the biggest players to ever walk the streets of Glitter Gulch. John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.