gb&d: City Center helped elevate the status of Las Vegas architecturally, as well as in terms of sustainability. How have the buildings performed post-occupancy?
Ortega: The most important thing City Center did in the world was, in a very big way, dispel that myth that there has to be a trade-off. But we’re not resting on our laurels. It’s great that we did it, but we continue to calibrate, and City Center continues to be a shining example of energy and water efficiency. We’ve also used it as a platform for education. We’ve had the head of facilities for the school district here and many others. We’ve opened our arms to teaching them and collaborating with them on energy efficiency.
gb&d: With such a large footprint in Vegas, you have the opportunity to affect some pretty serious change at a municipal level.
Ortega: We’re the largest employer and the largest private taxpayer in the state of Nevada. On the state and local, and even federal platform with Harry Reid, we have the opportunity to participate in crafting environmental policy. The fact that we’re so deliberate and that our roots are in finance really gives us credibility in those arenas. We also try to work through our public-private partnerships here in the Las Vegas area to take the passion and intelligence of the people on my team and connect it with other organizations that can use it.
gb&d: Las Vegas is clearly a city in transition—
Ortega: And in recovery. The recession hit Vegas so hard. We like to say it was a near-death experience, and it was. It was an emotionally trying time. My kids were in their later teenage years, and we knew [families] where both parents were laid off. When that happens, you shift your priorities.
gb&d: There also seems to be an emphasis on community building—this idea that Las Vegas is not just a destination but that there are real people who live here.
Ortega: I think Tony Hsieh is a visionary. He’s on the level of people that there will be coffee-table books about. That he’s brought this eclectic group of individuals and organizations together is really neat, and I’m happy to see that that’s going to become part of the tapestry that is Las Vegas. I also think there’s a much greater awareness now that Las Vegas is a place for outdoor recreation. It’s one of the best rock-climbing destinations in the world. I know people who come here and go rock-climbing and aren’t even aware of the Strip.
gb&d: What brought you to Vegas?
Ortega: I grew up on a cattle ranch about halfway between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. I’m an urban kind of girl, I guess, and my sister married a man from Las Vegas. I wanted to live close to her. That’s how I became an unlikely resident. I’ve lived here for more than 25 years.
gb&d: What’s been the biggest change the city has undergone in those 25 years?
Ortega: If you would’ve asked me that question five years ago, it would’ve been, “Oh my gosh, it grows! And it’s bigger and better and brighter and golder and blah blah blah.” But now, the biggest change Las Vegas has undergone is having to learn how to handle a crushing blow and get up and build yourself into a better community. And you can see it. It builds resolve. As a culture, and as a company, we really feel that we’ve benefitted from this. We feel that it made us better and stronger, and that the company is a better company because we’ve had to take stock of what is important.
MORE ON LAS VEGAS
“Although we project a carefree, party image, southern Nevada is quite serious about our resource plan.”
– Doug Bennett, Conservation Manager, Southern Nevada Water Authority
“We proved that you can take a building from the ’70s that’s got its quirks and challenges and turn it into a LEED Gold building.”
– Brad Tomm, Sustainability Manager, Zappos