PHILADELPHIA -- Las Vegas city officials are putting their faith in the products of a University of Pennsylvania design studio taught by Susan Nigra Snyder and George E. Thomas. Instead of seeing a down-and-out neighborhood suited only for demolition and new construction, Snyder and Thomas's graduate students saw a swan where most see an ugly duckling.
By incorporating the 1950's car-culture buildings along East Fremont Street, they saw the opportunity to create a hip retro district that would tie East Fremont to other successful urban districts. By incorporating bars, jazz clubs and galleries, they propose to enhance the entertainment district that the city has begun to develop to the west.
"This street is part of our history," Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, a Penn Law School graduate, said. "It's the urban fabric that we can build upon to be the hottest place in town. We can't write off the qualities and characteristics of this great area."
Students from the architecture, city planning, historic preservation, landscape architecture and the fine arts departments in Penn's Graduate School of Fine Arts visited the city in February and spent the next three months researching, planning and finally designing schemes that were presented in a review in May.
Through the assistance of the Fremont Street Experience and Goodman, Snyder and Thomas brought the student projects back to Las Vegas in early July to exhibit their work. A 100-foot window in a closed restaurant fronting on East Fremont now contains core elements of the students' projects, which are aimed at opening discussion about the future of the street. According to Snyder and Thomas, these are not intended for construction but, can begin to create a broader vision that will serve as a basis for planning and implementation. Most important, the student work serves a catalyst for changing the way people think about the street.
"These conceptual designs will create an alternative to what Las Vegas typically offers to its residents and tourists," said Las Vegas Councilman Lawrence Weekly. "There are limited choices in what you can do in Vegas. Creating an entertainment district with clubs, restaurants and bars in one area is a fabulous idea. The best part about this project is that we will re-energize the area with the historic architecture that already exists."
In his Las Vegas Review Journal column for July 14, John Smith rhetorically asked if Penn's professors and their students had spent too much time in the sun or had found an appropriate vision for The Real Las Vegas. He concluded, that the time had come to take a chance on Fremont Street and the visions the Penn studio presented.
Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and Councilperson Lawrence Weekly at a press conference for the unveiling of Penn graduate student work on Fremont Street.