Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is on a mission to reimagine Vegas. He’s moving his company headquarters to a forgotten part of the city and then investing $350million of his own money (which was Amazon’s before they bought Zappos) into real estate, start-ups and education. When I sat down to speak with him over lunch on a recent trip, he explained that he wanted to set new criteria for successful urban redevelopment.
In his redevelopment of downtown Las Vegas, Hsieh hopes to create architecture, community and education spaces that encourage people to bump into each other, to connect and for new ideas to blossom. The goal is to design spaces that provide the maximum potential collisions per square foot – he has even taken this theory and applied it to his current offices. At Zappos headquarters Hsieh has closed the exits and shortcuts to the parking lot and forced everyone to walk through the same front door entrance – thus encouraging the serendipitous meeting of people – and hopefully new ideas will spring from this.
We spent much of day and night with him and his crew – and went away inspired by not only his vision but the incredible steps he’s taking to get culture moving in downtown Las Vegas. In summary, here are 10 ways Tony Hsieh plans to make the city of the future:
1. City Center HQ
Instead of moving to a business park, Hsieh bought the old city hall and brought the Zappos staff to a downtown neighborhood. Around this office he will spend $350 million on education, real estate and locally based start-ups.
2. Shipping Container Retail Park
On an empty city block, Hseih plans to create a retail park with units made out of shipping containers. The park will feature meeting spaces and some Burning Man style art such as a huge praying mantis that breathes fire.
3. Investing In Locals To Build Better Businesses
As I toured the downtown with Hsieh he showed us a BBQ shack that he had invested in to feed the lunchtime crowd. We sat in a restaurant he reopened with the help of a chef who had spent years working in the casino restaurants.
4. Re-imagine The Original Architecture
Some things just aren’t what they seem in downtown Las Vegas. The Medical Center holds a coffee shop and artists community (run independently to the Downtown Project) and the local check cashing establishment is now a fashion store that is also a front to the team’s offices.
5. Creating Events For Locals
First Friday has been an event held at the start of every month in Las Vegas. Hsieh saw that the locals needed a place to mix and connect but what was on offer wasn’t very good. He bought the rights to the evening event and brought in his own team to manage it. Now it’s booming with traders, artists, food-carts, entertainment – even a skateboard park and DJ set.
6. Investing In Start Ups That Invest In The City
Tony has a fund to encourage entrepreneurs to live and work in the city. One of the clauses is that the business should be designed to hire locals and take them on an upwardly mobile career. The fund, operated by Andy White, is run out of a mixed use space – at night it’s the Downtown Lounge bar!
7. Embedding The Idea
Tony has rented the top 4 floors of serviced apartments in a building called the Ogden and gives them out to the staff who are helping rebuild the neighborhood. He also offers them to people visiting town in the hope they will get to know his plans better – a tour of the Downtown Project actually takes you into Tony Hsieh’s apartment where you can see plans for the downtown redevelopment.
8. Getting Creatives To Fall In Love
The crowned prince of customer service also gets people to stay for longer periods in the hope they’d get to fall in love with a different kind of community and relocate. When I was in Vegas I met the Florida band that plays the hold music for the Zappos service line. They were staying in the serviced apartments for three months as Hseih’s guests to get a feel for the city.
9. Getting All The People Involved
On the wall of his apartment is a brainstorm space where people can come and add ideas. These ideas help fuel the planning of the city.
10. TED-Like Education Space
Hsieh also plans to create an auditorioum so people can come and share their ideas with local audiences. The space could be booked by other members of the community. To warm up for this, the Downtown Project already runs a Friday talk series – where we saw Diane Hessan who spoke about her experience launching her start-up Communispace.