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Billionaire Tony Hsieh continues investment in Las Vegas

Many cautiously watch the grand experiment of Tony Hsieh as he attempts to revitalize downtown Las Vegas.

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Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh delivers a keynote presentation Feb. 17, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

There are only a few cool bars on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas, and on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has hit up most of them. 

He made his way from Commonwealth, a pub that just opened, to Le Thai, where he shared a round of shots while talking to its owner. Now Hsieh, 39, is on his way to Downtown Cocktail Room (DCR), his favorite bar, on Las Vegas Boulevard.

Before he reaches the doors, a couple of young guys yell over to him, "Tony!" So does Jamie Naughton, Zappos' Speaker of the House. Within a few seconds, there's a small crowd circling Hsieh, not to mention those who were already bar hopping with him.

For Hsieh, it's a regular night, except that he's dressed up in a dark blue suit coat and bowtie, because he just returned from the Las Vegas Philharmonic, where he narrated Aaron Copland’s "Lincoln Portrait."

DCR is packed this evening because there's a huge birthday party for Augusta Scott, Zappos’ Life Coach and one of Hsieh’s close friends. She walks outside and Hsieh tells everyone they're heading over to the Drink & Drag nightclub just around the corner in the Neonopolis. On the way over the founders of Tech Cocktail join the group, as does DCR owner Michael Cornthwaite, who along with his wife Jennifer, are good friends of Hsieh's.

Everywhere he goes, he attracts followers. Some work for him. Others have received investments from him. Many were drawn from the other side of the country to Las Vegas, whether for a visit or to live there full-time.

Hsieh is investing $350 million of his own money to transform downtown Las Vegas. He's been successful so far, but the billion-dollar question remains: Can the community survive without Tony?


Earlier this year, Zappos signed an $18 million deal to move its corporate headquarters and 1,500 employees, from Henderson, NV into Vegas' old City Hall.

"It was almost too good to be true that City Hall is a few blocks away from Michael's bar and all of that," Hsieh tells us. "Originally, we were just saying, any plot of land anywhere. We'll just build our own campus like Google or Apple or Nike. Michael convinced us not to do that. Apple and Nike have great campuses for their employees, but they're not integrated and don't contribute to the community around them. They're kind of like these little islands."

Hsieh lives in the Ogden, a luxury apartment complex just a few blocks from City Hall and DCR. He rents 37 rooms in the building, which he rents out to Downtown Project and Zappos employees and the startups he’s investing in. Several rooms are used as "crash pads" for hosting guests and visitors. Hsieh has a huge apartment on the 23rd floor with stunning views of Las Vegas. It’s actually three apartments combined, with large-scale maps of Vegas, architect's sketches and Post-Its on the walls with ideas for investments.

The Ogden is a lot like 1000 Van Ness, the San Francisco apartment complex Hsieh lived in just after he sold his first company, LinkExchange, to Microsoft for $265 million. At the time he was only 25, but he owned the penthouse suite, and he and his friends and family owned 20 percent of the building. In his book, Delivering Happiness, he describes it this way:

I bought the 810 loft, not because I wanted to own more property, and not because I thought of it as a real estate investment. I bought 810 so I could architect our parties and gatherings. Owning the loft would ultimately enable more experiences. ... I envisioned 810 as being the afterparty meet-up spot after a night out as a club, bar, or rave. And I envisioned converting 810 into our own private nightclub.

“In a way, he’s just taking 1000 Van Ness to Vegas,” says Erik Moore, an early Zappos investor who also lived at 1000 Van Ness. He met Hsieh in the elevator after a night of partying, where they shared a bag of Doritos. "What Tony is doing is out of the box, not typical, not normal," he says. "Most people would wonder why he doesn't ride off into

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