Natalie Young had quit her job as a chef on the Las Vegas Strip just months before she was introduced to Mr. Hsieh by a friend who ran a cafe in downtown Las Vegas. She recalled on Saturday that he once asked her, “What size restaurant do you want?” and subsequently offered him a loan of $ 225,000. With the money, she opened her first restaurant, Eat, in 2012, and it became a success. As her own business grew, she also saw her downtown neighborhood change.
“I remember standing on the corner of Eat and looking back and forth and seeing nothing – like, nothing,” she said of the weather before she opened her restaurant. . But after it opened, and as Mr. Hsieh’s investments attracted more businesses and people, the city center became a destination, she said, and suddenly parents and children arrived by bicycle in the front door of his restaurant.
As much as she loves the new downtown area, Ms. Young admitted that he had come with compromises; the cafe her friend owned closed in 2016 and was replaced by a restaurant owned by a California chain, exactly the kind of business Mr Hsieh said he wanted to avoid in favor of one-off shops.
“Those kinds of things made you sad, but it’s also part of growing up,” said Young.
In recent years, as Mr. Hsieh became less involved in the downtown project, it was increasingly managed “like a traditional town planning project”, focusing on real estate and investing in more lucrative projects, Aimee Groth, who wrote a book on Mr. Hsieh and the project, wrote for Quartz in 2017.
Leah Meisterlin, assistant professor of town planning at Columbia University, said on Saturday that Hsieh’s project was a first attempt to bring a quick Silicon Valley approach to town planning. Despite its generous investment, Ms. Meisterlin said, the project may have been slowed down in its ambition as cities can benefit more from slower and more cautious changes.
“They had no experience in city planning, but what he did have was over $ 300 million of his own wealth that he was willing to invest,” Ms. Meisterlin said. “What he chose as a subject – a city – necessarily slowed him down, when many efforts might not have been, and I think it was ultimately for the best.
Mayor Carolyn Goodman of Las Vegas, whose city limits do not include the Las Vegas Strip and its many landmarks, written on twitter Saturday that Mr. Hsieh had been a visionary for the downtown area of the city.