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Drone racing creativity a sample of downtown’s allure

It’s clear Downtown Project is generating positive energy throughout downtown Las Vegas, not just in the newly thriving Fremont East district. Downtown Project recently received high marks from a respected financial analyst who pointed out that all the investment and activity in new restaurants, bars and retail downtown is having an exceptionally positive effect on the long-standing casinos of Fremont Street.

In a recent report to investors, Wells Fargo Securities gaming analyst Cameron McKnight noted that while the Las Vegas Strip sustained a 1.5 percent drop in gaming revenue through September 2015 compared with the same period in 2014, downtown Las Vegas casinos have enjoyed a healthy 6 percent increase in gaming revenue over the same time frame.

Just as important as the trajectory of that growth is the reason for it. Downtown Las Vegas is attracting young, well-moneyed visitors who, according to McKnight’s analysis, find themselves drawn to the new attractions, bars, restaurants, pub crawls, retail and other entertainment destinations in which Downtown Project has partnered.

In October, we started planning for an all-new event downtown for November, which is typically a slow month for us. We envisioned a totally innovative attraction — something carrying a low cost but with high visibility that we could grow into yet another destination for those hip residents and visitors who have been fueling the newfound success of the Fremont East district as well as the traditional casinos along the Fremont Street Experience.

What we came up with was the launch of drone racing in downtown Las Vegas. Not only did we launch a race, but we also created a league: The Xtreme Drone Circuit (XDC), designed to support the surging popularity of drones (small unmanned aerial vehicles) and drone racing.

The inaugural XDC event in November was an instant success that drew drone pilots, racers and enthusiasts from all over the world and attracted hundreds of locals to the old Western Hotel, which was purchased and renovated by Downtown Project.

We followed up with XDC_2, our second drone racing event, which drew 70 of the world’s best drone pilots and more than 500 spectators to the Zappos headquarters in downtown Las Vegas from Jan. 7-9, coinciding with CES, the huge annual consumer electronics convention on the Strip. The drone racing competition took place on a spectacular, specially designed race course that incorporated the three-story Zappos courtyard structure. We also added a dimension that has heretofore gone unexplored in the drone world: the dynamic of recording racers in HD climbing several stories to come “eye-to-eye” with cameras strategically placed several stories off the ground.

In a show of support for XDC, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman officially proclaimed Jan. 9 as “Xtreme Drone Circuit Day” in Las Vegas.

The sport of drone racing is in its infancy. Completely unregulated pop-up races take place all over the world but, until recently, their only draw was hyperlocal. There was no supervising entity, there was no publicity, and the truth is most of them probably ran afoul of strict FAA regulations. We wanted a well-regulated event that pilots and their supporters would be drawn to organically; after all, what good is it to win a race when there is no record of your victory, no points to be accumulated as part of your lifetime achievement?

Also important to us, we want “green” events that offset the environmental impact of the event as well as covering a good deal of the public’s travel to the races. We partnered with Alternative Power Productions (APP), one of the nation’s leading green-energy companies, which brought in portable solar arrays and contracted with the Carbon Trade Exchange to offset carbon credits. By avoiding the use of conventional energy from coal-fired electrical generation, in our first event alone we saved enough water to fill four Olympic-sized swimming pools, according to APP.

We look forward to teaming with our neighbors downtown and in all of Las Vegas. Finally, we have officially been asked to pass along a friendly note to our friends at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, who deserve a great deal of credit for the substantial increase in safety and security of the downtown area: When he’s not busy racing drones, Shaun Taylor, the XDC champ, is a professional firefighter. Maybe we could have the next firefighters versus police event as a drone race — that would be worth seeing.

Mark Rowland is the CEO of DTP Ventures, which oversees and runs many of the entities owned by Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project. The vision of Downtown Project focuses on making Downtown Las Vegas a place of inspiration, entrepreneurial energy, creativity, innovation, upward mobility and discovery.

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