The history of Las Vegas is full of determined men with outsize egos and grand plans. There was Bugsy Siegel in the 1940s, envisioning a gambling mecca in the desert, away from the reach of law enforcement. A half century later, developers like Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson added pomp, glitz, and more than a touch of excess to the area that has become known as the Strip.
Now there’s another resolute businessman who wants to bend Sin City to his vision. Tony Hsieh, the soft-spoken chief executive officer of shoe and apparel site Zappos.com (a division of Amazon.com) wants to turn the often overlooked and economically depressed downtown area into a dense urban neighborhood teeming with artists, entrepreneurs, and Internet workers. It’s one of the most unconventional redevelopment efforts in any American city, ever. Instead of soliciting public funds, Hsieh is spending $350 million of his own money to buy empty lots, seed new businesses, and subsidize schools. Next year he’ll move his company’s 1,400 local employees from suburban offices into the 11-story former City Hall (complete with jail cells on the second floor that may become meeting rooms). “What started out as a campus relocation project has evolved into a project to revitalize downtown Vegas,” Hsieh says.