Las Vegas Gambles On Unique Business Incubator

The Downtown Container Park will set up budding entrepreneurs in repurposed shipping containers. The park will have 35 containers and a bunch of modular cubes like you'd normally see at a construction site — all to house local businesses.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

All right. Let's go now to Las Vegas, and to a new building project that promises to dramatically depart from the ostentatious casinos and elaborate theme parks that millions of tourists associate with Sin City. This project is called simply "the Container Park." And it's intended to be an incubator for small businesses, and a place for locals to hang out. NPR's Ted Robbins is our guide.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: The Las Vegas Strip is one big mall, a bounty of brand names and bling. It's what visitors come for. Ernie Loya is a big guy, but his Big Ern's Barbeque is no name brand.

ERNIE LOYA: I was ready to start a restaurant out of my living room. I would have it decorated with a menu board and the whole bit, have friends come over.

ROBBINS: Then he connected with the people behind the Downtown Container Park. It's going up on a corner lot, a little more than an acre in size, across the street from a high rise apartment house and some shops which have seen better days. The developer offered Ernie Loya a loan and business mentoring. Now Big Ern's will be serving barbeque from inside a couple of steel cargo shipping containers.

LOYA: This will be the food line right here. The register's right there. The food line for the people who take the orders, come around through here, fix their food right here.

ROBBINS: Other cities have tried using shipping containers as places for people to live or work. The Las Vegas Container Park is industrial chic on a fairly ambitious scale. It will have 35 repurposed shipping containers and a bunch of modular cubes like you'd normally see at a construction site, all to house local businesses.

DOUG MCPHAIL: We're gonna have ladies' fashion. We're gonna have small eateries. We're gonna have bike shop - we believe we'll have a bike shop. We'll have art inside the containers.

ROBBINS: Doug McPhail is managing the place. He says there'll be an actual park, a place for kids and adults to play, a place for bands to play. His description sounds like classic urban revitalization.

MCPHAIL: Centric to almost any community is a place of gathering, a place to be, a place to die and a place to just be entertained.

ROBBINS: This is Las Vegas. There are plenty of places to be entertained, but they're for visitors willing to drop a bundle on food, shows and gambling. This is part of the larger downtown project. Zappos.com founder Tony Hsieh has pledged $350 million to revitalize the area to lure professionals to live here instead of in the sprawling Vegas suburbs.

It's a gamble, but the Container Park is scheduled to open this fall. Construction manager Dave Duggan has worked on a lot of huge Las Vegas resorts. For him this is something different.

DAVE DUGGAN: Coming down here and revitalizing downtown Las Vegas is a once in a lifetime opportunity and building hotels is what everyone does here in Las Vegas.

ROBBINS: There is one flamboyant Vegas-style feature at the Container Park's entrance, a 40-foot fire-breathing sculpture of a praying mantis. Ted Robbins, NPR News.

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