By Joanna Haugen
Before they happen upon the outdoor dining tables or quirky play area made of a maze of slides, visitors to Downtown Container Park in Las Vegas are greeted by the Mantis—a 40-foot-long, fire-breathing art project that debuted at Burning Man two years ago. The Mantis may have been born in the desert of Black Rock City in Northern Nevada, but its permanent home is in downtown Las Vegas at the entrance to one of the city’s newest tourist attractions.
Located on the corner of Fremont and Seventh Streets, Container Park is the latest addition in the downtown expansion and revitalization process. The park is made up of 31 repurposed, different-sized shipping containers. The park also features 43 Xtreme Cubes, courtesy of Las Vegas’ Xtreme Manufacturing. The containers and cubes house a variety of small businesses; hence the park’s name.
This shopping, entertainment, and community area contains a mix of retail and dining options including a leather designer, kettle corn and jerky retailers, and a variety of accessories outfitters. Art galleries include Disney-related collections and works by local artists. An outdoor performance space features everything from live shows by classic rock and folk artists to boot camp fitness classes and motivational speakers. Kids are entertained by a multilevel play area that includes a NEOS Playworld System, and a smattering of public art pieces beyond the Mantis round out the experience.
Because businesses are located in shipping containers, in-store space is limited, and tables for dining are located outside, creating an open-air pedestrian mall of sorts. “We really think of this as a backyard barbecue, where parents can sit, have a glass of wine, and visit with their friends while their kids play in a safe environment,” says Kim Schaefer, communications coordinator for the Downtown Project.
Funded by the Downtown Project—a revitalization organization privately funded by Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh—Container Park serves as a retail and dining complex for locals and visitors as well as a support network for business owners. “We really think of the park as a small-business incubator, where people can come, grow their businesses, and possibly move into a larger space somewhere else after they’ve grown their businesses here,” Schaefer says. “It’s got a tech incubator feel in that everyone here is a new small business owner. They can work together and support each other. We want to help these folks be successful.”
Taking Care of Business
This time last year, Brandi Allen was selling handmade jewelry at First Friday—downtown Las Vegas’ monthly festival—with fellow artist and friend Melissa Lemon. Now she’s a legitimate business owner, standing behind a counter at 702dtlv—a Container Park retail shop. “It all happened so fast,” Allen says. “This was really just a hobby, and then my husband suggested we look into getting a storefront at Container Park.”
In summer 2013, Allen and Lemon received the news they were going to be among the inaugural tenants. Container Park celebrated its soft launch that November, and suddenly the jewelry designers were catapulted into a whole new realm of business ownership. “There’s been a learning curve,” Allen says.
She’s discovered that it’s best for vendor partners to drop off goods before or after store hours, and she’s surprised by which goods have been most popular with customers. In most instances, taking a chance on a new business can be particularly risky, and while Allen and other shop owners at Container Park are certainly investing money, time, and manpower into their ventures, there’s also some comfort and support inherent in their efforts.
With a few exceptions, 702dtlv is one of approximately 30 retail and dining owner-operated businesses at Container Park opening brick-and-mortar storefronts for the very first time. So far, business owners are optimistic. “It has been busy, especially right before Christmas,” says Estephania Solis, manager of BluMarble, which repurposes glass bottles from Strip hotels into one-of-a-kind gifts ranging from cocktail glasses to pendants. “In the morning and afternoon we have families; as the day goes on, we see more couples.”
Visitors and Business Owners React
Nightly live music provides entertainment for those who want to hang out for a while, but some casual visitors contend that there aren’t a lot of options if you’re not a downtown employee enjoying lunch, on a specific shopping mission, or a parent sitting idly by while their kids play on the park’s tree house and 33-foot slide.
One of those parents is Erika Washington, who lives within walking distance of Container Park. A mother of three, she brings her daughters here often. While the two older girls wander through the shops, the youngest explores the play space. “I think it’s cute,” Washington says. “I liked being here at dusk when the lights were coming on. It felt like we were on a cute urban street.”
Additionally, people have expressed concerns about how an outdoor space will cope with Las Vegas’ sometimes-intense summer heat. Despite these concerns, Container Park’s opening has kept the spark alive for a more prosperous and welcoming downtown area in Las Vegas. “There used to just be a couple bars down here, but things have changed,” Solis says. “I see the vision. They’re attracting locals and tourists here, but a different kind of tourist: tourists who are looking for something different than what’s on the Strip.”
That, of course, is part of the overarching vision for the Downtown Project. “We think this location is going to be a game changer for the work we’re doing downtown to attract more people,” Schaefer says.
As a downtown resident, Washington agrees. “I think Container Park is going to define some of the business downtown. I see it as a place where entrepreneurs can take a chance.” That’s exactly what Allen has done. “Business has been good,” she says. “I can’t complain.”
Plan Your Trip
Downtown Container Park
707 Fremont St., Las Vegas, NV 89101
Hours: Sun.-Thurs., 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 10 a.m. to 1 a.m.