With a volcano, an Egyptian pyramid and the Eiffel Tower already under its belt, Las Vegas is trying its hand at building something else from scratch: a downtown.
"As other cities look to replace their blighted downtowns with new development, Las Vegas, known for its extravagant facsimiles of European and American landmarks, has come up with an unusual approach: Build another downtown, right next to the decaying one.
On Thursday, the city will formally inaugurate a new urban core on a 61-acre, undeveloped parcel of land - a project that some experts say is unprecedented in city planning. Called Union Park, its supporters hope it will revive the historic downtown just to the east, where the region's courthouses, government offices and oldest casinos are clustered.
More than $6 billion in mostly private money has been announced for five ambitious projects: an Alzheimer's research center, designed by Frank Gehry; a 60-story international center for jewelry trading; a hotel by the celebrity chef Charlie Palmer; a casino-resort; thousands of residential units and square feet of office space, and, as its centerpiece, a $360 million performing arts center.
Construction on the rippled Gehry building and utility lines is under way on this former brownfield, once a chemical dumping ground for the Union Pacific Railroad.
"It's quite unusual that there's a big swath of downtown ground just sitting there without having to go through a whole rigmarole to acquire," said Bill Hudnut, a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington."