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  • Writer's pictureKerri King

Incredible Inspiration From The Las Vegas Downtown Project

This weekend, I had the opportunity to tag along with the 360 Incentives team on a tour of Zappos‘ headquarters in downtown Las Vegas. While my husband and his co-workers were in training with the team from Delivering Happiness, I was invited to attend a very special tour of The Las Vegas Downtown Project and the founder, Tony Hsieh’s apartment.

If you haven’t heard of the amazing development that is taking place in old Las Vegas, go ahead and check out this site, which will give you an idea of what is happening there.   I’ll wait here.

Our tour guide, Heidy, shared the story of Tony’s inspiration to create The Downtown Project and his commitment to transform downtown Las Vegas by investing over 50 million dollars of his own money into tech start ups – the main upside he is looking for is ROC or Return on Community. The vision for the development is based on what Heidy described as the three C’s: connectedness, collision, and co-learning. The co-work spaces or “collisionable spaces” that make up the community that is being developed are designed to encourage human collisions to maximize the potential for collaboration amongst the members of the community, which is open to everyone.

How inspiring!

Heidy’s tour of Tony’s apartment was just about as colourful as her hair – I was amazed to see how generous Tony was to invite curious folks like myself to learn about the culture of his business. The apartment was outfitted with a bar, open concept kitchen and meeting spaces, and an absolutely wild jungle room surrounded by living walls of greenery. You will see from this photo that the jungle room was outfitted with extra beds this week-end to accommodate guests that were in town for the inaugural Life is Beautiful Festival. The festival, created and produced by Hsieh’s The Downtown Project is touted as the largest community event in the world.

Jason King, Mark from Delivering Happiness, Travis Dutka, Dan Carter

After the apartment tour, I met up with the 360 team at the co-work space where the team was finishing their Delivering Workplace Happiness training. The streets were bustling with security, event production teams, chefs, artisans and other vendors setting up for a huge week-end of live music, top cuisine and inspirational talks taking place around downtown Las Vegas. Heidy had explained that live music is the main focus of the inaugural festival spanning over nine city blocks, which were all being closed to stage the massive event.

Inspired by my friend Daniel Knight’s fascination with “cargotecture”, the last stop on my visit to downtown Vegas had to be a stop at the Container Park, which is currently under construction.

The concept behind the container park is that shipping containers are being re-purposed to create sustainable, creative spaces for the entrepreneurial community to thrive.


According to Daniel Knight, “Durham Region appears to be at the tipping point, with a rising entrepreneurial community, world class post-secondary institutions, and some of the most affordable real estate surrounding the GTA.”


Daniel has a broad perspective after living on three continents (Europe, North America, and Australia) – and is a big fan of cargotecture. Dan also introduced me to a similar container project called Boxpark in the UK; where they have successfully mixed sustainability, architectural art and boutique entrepreneurialism to revitalize an urban landscape.

Is all of this too crazy to even consider for Durham Region with our cold climates and existing policies?  Who knows?

My take-away from the Downtown Project is that my own community is well-positioned for exciting projects such as this one.   It will take a collective vision, alignment with our community leaders and, just like Hsieh and his company, commitment to occupying the spaces we wish to revitalize.   The people who most urgently need to be sold on the vision are really ourselves.

In some ways, the Downtown Project reminds me of our own initiatives such as Spark Centre’s Ignite Durham, and the Region of Durham’s The Art of Transition project – all designed to connect and celebrate the creative, innovative entrepreneurial community.

I am not sure if we have a billionaire in out midst to invest $50 million in our communities to build projects like the Downtown Project or produce the Life is Beautiful Festival; so I must remind myself of Tony’s motto for the project:

“All great ideas start life out as acts of insanity.”

Or Jason Atkins’ motto at 360 Incentives: “Live in the possible.”

What is your big idea?

Where is your favorite place to gather for creative collisions?

I would love to know – please share your feedback in the comments below.

WARNING – Shameless promotional part:

I am looking forward to seeing our creative leaders in Durham Region next week at the Durham Art of Transition Creative Awards on November 8th at The RMG at 6:30pm. Why don’t you join us? Admission is free, and everyone is welcome.

You may just have a creative collision of your own.

Hope to see you there!

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