By Spud Hilton
It was difficult to think of Tony “The Ant” Spilotro – or anyone nicknamed for an insect – as being a sure sign of culture, sophistication and revitalization.
But there he was, murdered, in a ditch, in a grainy oversize photo on display in the new National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement – arguably the first nationally recognized cultural attraction in, well, the city’s history. (And no, endless shows with French Canadian mimes and Ukrainian acrobats in rubber masks don’t count.)
The Ant and his gumbah buddies aren’t alone. The museum (a.k.a. the Mob Museum) is just the latest, most visible development in a slowly building extreme makeover and cultural renewal of Las Vegas’ downtown, long the beleaguered, cast-off sibling to the city’s theme-park Strip.
And it’s not just about tourists.
Unlike previous attempts to revive downtown, this is as much about residents – local-arts districts, entertainment geared for locals and hip nightlife not designed and subsidized by casino corporations.
It was time to find out if a city that has always existed for the benefit of visitors is finally building a culture to call its own, and if this new side to Vegas – in what some are calling the “new metropolitan center of Las Vegas” – makes it more viable for those who currently see Sin City as a black hole for art and creativity.