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VIDEO VAULT | Turning downtown Las Vegas into 'Las Venice'

An artist rendering shows a water-filled canal stretching down a street in downtown Las Vegas.{ }
An artist rendering shows a water-filled canal stretching down a street in downtown Las Vegas.
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When the canopy over Fremont Street was completed in 1995, it completely transformed the downtown Las Vegas experience, for better or worse.

The Fremont Street Experience came after a totally different concept for downtown that might sound crazy today. But at the time, there was serious support for a project that came to be known as "Las Venice."

To put the idea in context, the Strip had recently been transformed by new uses of, among other things, water.

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"I probably wouldn't come out here if this place wasn't here," the male half of a young couple told News 3 in the summer of 1991. "Because that's why we drove through, to see The Mirage."

"Oh yeah, definitely the water is part of it," added his companion. "It adds a lot to the look of the hotel, and it gives it a resort look, and I like that."

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority had produced a series of national advertisements that made Las Vegas look like a wet paradise. So when Mirage and Golden Nugget owner Steve Wynn suggested a system of downtown canals, news outlets were all over it even before Wynn made the artist renditions available.

"We certainly don't want to rain on his parade, but let us give you a peek of what downtown might look like with canals," reported News 3's Scott Andrus from Fremont and Main. "First, let me get out of the way. This place is going to fill up with water."

"The canal features sandy beaches and extends from Main Street to Third [Street]," continued Andrus as the live image transitioned to a scene imagined by the Channel 3 Graphics Department. "From there, another canal branches off to Lady Luck."

It would have included gondola rides almost a decade before The Venetian. All of which sounds great, but were people getting ahead of themselves?

"As cool images of fountains and ponds flash on the TV screen, you are no doubt making up your own mind as to whether such water attractions are wasteful," said Andrus, dipping his hand into the lake surrounding the Mirage's volcano. "Certainly in the desert, where water is scare, the perception is, ‘Yes, they are wasteful.’ That's the perception. Now, what about reality?"

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The canals would actually re-use wastewater. But aside from the dozens of millions of dollars needed for excavation, utility relocation and construction, planners knew it was critical to spend enough that the project would not stink - literally.

"Certainly one of the most critical hurdles to cover for the project had to be the water quality," Mirage Resorts Spokesman Alan Feldman told News 3 in August 1991. "If that water turned out to be either not usable just too contaminated to use or that to clean it to make it usable for this kind of purpose was just so expensive that it would make the project prohibitive. That would have--forgive the expression--blown this out of the water."

And in fact, the whole idea was soon quietly dropped.

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It may strain credulity when walking the well-established Fremont Street Experience today, but for a while back in the summer of 1991, the future of downtown appeared to be all wet.

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