Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2003 | 9:23 a.m.
The Clark County Commission took its first steps toward creating a redevelopment agency, targeting three blighted areas in the oldest part of the county's urban core.
The new agency does not have any money to work with, but it does have a board -- the commissioners themselves -- a chairwoman, Commissioner Myrna Williams, and a map of the proposed areas. The largest of the three is the troubled Commercial Center on East Sahara Avenue, a once-thriving, now "transitional" property with multiple property owners and tenants that has had episodes of crime and attracted some adult-oriented businesses.
The other areas are the commercial block along Maryland Parkway between Twain Avenue and Desert Inn Road, across from the Boulevard mall, and the block of East Sahara Avenue between Boulder Highway and U.S. 95.
Consultant Larry Bender, of Bender and Associates, said the 5-0 decision is the first step toward attracting new investment to the down-on-their-heels neighborhoods identified by the county. The idea is to use future redevelopment funds to provide needed infrastructure and to serve as a conduit for new investment.
Bender said the areas targeted Tuesday are only conceptual and could change.
Clark County Comprehensive Planning officials have to draft a redevelopment plan for the areas. Bender said the county should act before February 2004 to formally establish the new agency.
The reason is that the funding for any work that the agency would do would come, according to state statute, from the property-tax difference between what the properties pull in now and what the county would collect in the future, Comprehensive Planning Acting Director Alan Pinkerton explained.
He said taxes would not go up for the existing businesses and property owners in those areas except as a byproduct of rising values, but new investors would be encouraged to build and improve property in the blighted zones.
"Without the redevelopment zones those revenues would go into the general fund," Pinkerton said.
The commissioners voted 5-0 to create the redevelopment board. Commissioner Mark James abstained because he represents a property owner in the area.
Commissioner Chip Maxfield did not attend Tuesday's commission meeting for what he called important personal business, but he submitted a letter for the record that cautioned that redevelopment areas "can be an extra burden" on property owners. He said through the letter that he has reservations about government involvement in the issue and said he does not support eminent domain.
Las Vegas has been involved in protracted eminent domain issues surrounding its redevelopment effort on Fremont Street. Pinkerton, however, said those issues would not be a problem for the unincorporated county.
Williams agreed. "We don't do eminent domain the same way they do them in other jurisdictions," she said. "We do willing buyer, willing seller."
The County Commission last fall threw out a proposal to impose an extra property tax on the Commercial Center area after tenants said it would destroy their businesses, which range from costume shops and laundries to the Green Door, a sex club.
Elaine Fish is one of those tenants with a more respectable pedigree. She and her family have operated John Fish Jewelers for 27 years at Commercial Center. Investment in the neighborhood would be a welcome spark, she said.
She said the police are more active in patrolling the huge, county-owned parking lot that forms the interior island of Commercial Center, but worries that the adult-oriented businesses and reports of crime are driving away the company's remaining business.
"What I think needs to be done is they need to redo the parking lot, then they could attract new people coming in," Fish said.
She noted that the Turnberry Towers projects and other residential and commercial efforts nearby are providing a base for business success, but people need to feel secure when they visit a business.
"We would like them to have something that makes them feel good about coming down here," Fish said.
She welcomed the concept, but worried that the county commissioners might not follow through with the redevelopment effort.
"There's a lot of potential here," Fish said. "It could be wonderful. It could change the atmosphere in our part of town."'