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October 19, 2014

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Casino to spur new growth in Summerlin

After months of controversy, Howard Hughes Corp. has approval for what the company hopes will be the spark that ignites a "new urban core" in Summerlin.

Station Casinos Inc. won Clark County Commission approval to develop its newest and biggest resort on 68 acres in what will be Summerlin Center.

The casino company bought the land from Howard Hughes Corp. last year. The Hughes Corp. had backed the casino company's controversial effort to win approval for a 1,500-room, 300-foot-high Red Rock Station resort at the intersection of the Las Vegas Beltway and Charleston Boulevard.

The commission, by a 6-0 vote, approved instead a 1,000-room, 198-foot resort on the site. The trimmed casino project was an 11th-hour compromise between nearby residents concerned about the project, their environmentalist allies and Station Casinos planners and their allies at the Hughes Corp.

While the commissioners clearly welcomed the compromise, not everyone was pleased with the deal. Some residents and environmentalists sharply criticized the pact, arguing that the county shouldn't have approved anything taller than the original 100-foot limit.

Station Executive Vice President Scott Nielsen echoed the commissioners and other speakers on both sides Wednesday in thanking all parties for working together on the issue.

While happy with the county's go-ahead, the company has said the redesign of the project necessitated by the compromise will add millions to the $400 million price tag.

Construction should begin midyear and it is expected to be finished in late 2005 or early 2006, according to company officials.

The Hughes Corp. was clearly stung by the reaction to Station's proposed development. The Hughes Corp. is trying to head off further hostility to plans to establish a Summerlin commercial center around the casino site.

Tom Warden, Hughes Corp. vice president, said the company will launch an intensive campaign this month to let people know what is planned for the area.

The effort will include conversations with Summerlin residents about what they want to see in the commercial center, Warden said.

Unlike the planned Red Rock Station casino, the Hughes Corp. already has land-use rights in place to build 4 million square feet of office space in 250-foot-tall office buildings. However, Hughes Corp. President Dan Van Epp said the company will evaluate and at least talk to the residents about the height issue in the planned office buildings.

He also said that the three remaining sites open for casino development in Summerlin will be at or below 100 feet, another concession to homeowners.

But commercial development will come to Summerlin, Warden said. And the casino approved Wednesday, along with a planned retail center, "will be the critical drivers that truly launch what will be the crown jewel of our community -- Summerlin Center."

"You're building an urban core, a downtown for all the residents of the western valley," he said. "It is smart growth. It is pedestrian friendly and it will be the most exciting place to live in the valley."

Summerlin is home to 65,000 people in 30,000 homes. The number of homes and people should double within the next 15 years. The residential build out for the area is expected in 2020.

Commercial build-out "will take its own time," Warden said, but ultimately Summerlin Center alone will provide jobs for 20,000 office and 10,000 retail workers.

"Summerlin Center has always been planned as the urban core," he said.

But the company believes that the "imaging" of that urban core hasn't kept pace with the residential development and perceptions of the area.

"We have to develop the imaging," Warden said. That will include educating residents, elected officials, environmentalists and media on what is planned for the 400 acres and why it makes sense for Las Vegas.

Instead of relying on mockups or drawings of the area, including the malls and central park, Warden said the company would search the country for similar developments and bring back the photos.

"There are no true urban cores that have been built from scratch in the valley," he said. "We need to show them what we're talking about."

What Hughes Corp. is talking about has always been a part of the 22,500-acre master-planned community, originally acquired by aviation pioneer and Las Vegas legend Howard Hughes in the 1950s. Development began on the community in 1988, and a mix of retail, commercial and residential -- a hallmark of then-new "smart growth" -- was always in the plans.

The idea is to have employment for many residents close, even walking distance, from homes, thereby cutting commuting times and the need for thousands of automobiles traveling long distances from the suburbs to urban job sites.

The overall concept has helped build a community that won an award for excellence from the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group Urban Land Institute in 2002, and helped keep the community on the Top 10 list of homes sales for planned communities over the last decade.

Commercial development, however, has lagged behind residential development. Not all the residents who now live in the community want the commercial focus that is an integral part of the plan.

"I'm not fond of it," said Libby Cammiso, who moved into Summerlin's Glenmere subdivision three years ago from Long Beach, Calif. "I would rather the whole thing be residential. It's not as if we're lacking for anything in our area."

Cammiso, her husband and their two children were active in the opposition to the size of the Red Rock Station project.

The Lithers were another young family active in the effort. Gabriel Lither, a Las Vegas attorney, helped found Summerlin Residents for Responsible Growth in direct response to the Station Casinos proposal.

He said most people either support or are at least resigned to the commercial center proposed for Summerlin, but the recent battle over the casino zoning has shown that the residents can have an impact on what will ultimately go into the community.

"We've never had a problem with the 'urban core' part," Lither said. But, he added, his family and other residents want a better look at Hughes Corp.'s commercial plans.

Lither noted that Van Epp has promised to evaluate the height of the already approved plans for office buildings that would go next door to the casino projects. At 250 feet, those heights had been criticized by some residents.

"It might help us that there is a 198-foot building (at the resort)," Lither said. "Maybe that will help us somewhat to limit the heights of the office buildings."

"I don't think any of us have a problem with an urban component, Summerlin Center," Lither said. "But it needs to be done in a manner that is acceptable to the residents."

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