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April 17, 2014

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Goodman touts downtown progress in annual speech

A planned Alzheimer's research center will break ground by Aug. 4 on Las Vegas' vacant downtown 61 acres, Mayor Oscar Goodman announced during his State of the City Address on Tuesday.

The center is expected to be the first piece of a construction boom on that property along Grand Central Parkway on the west side of downtown, property that is part of the former Union Pacific rail yards and a focus of city revitalization efforts for years.

The mayor also announced during his speech a $1 million donation from Boyd Gaming President Don Snyder to a performing arts center, which is also planned for the 61 acres, and the creation of a blue-ribbon panel headed by local developer Irwin Molasky that will focus on attracting businesses to the downtown.

As in past years Goodman touted downtown redevelopment during his annual address -- although this year the mayor emphasized that the dream of downtown revitalization "is no longer a wish, it's a reality."

City Councilman Larry Brown said Goodman deserves a lot of credit for the transforming of downtown.

"A lot of what's happening is because of his sheer will," Brown said. "A lot of people give speeches like this and you hear it, but with the mayor you believe it."

Clark County Commissioner Lynette Boggs McDonald, a former city councilwoman, said now we are seeing the fruits of Goodman's persistence.

"He's talked since 1999 about this," Boggs McDonald said about revitalizing downtown. "I have to give it to the man for being optimistic and persistent."

About 300 people, including elected officials and business and development leaders, attended the address, which was held at the Golden Nugget and began with a video that focused on the history of Las Vegas as the city celebrates its 100th birthday.

Goodman told the audience that while working downtown as a criminal defense attorney he saw nothing wrong with downtown, but that the day he became mayor his view changed.

"Everything looked different," Goodman said. "I saw boards on windows and 'for sale' signs. ... I felt a sense of deadness."

Goodman praised the City Council for supporting the revitalization efforts of downtown, and said that while every year he has spoken of the wish to turn downtown into a vibrant area, now "the dream is coming true."

Goodman listed many of the high-rise and high-end projects planned for downtown -- all part of the Manhattanization of downtown, he said -- and highlighted the projects slated for the 61 acres. The city has named the development planned for that property Union Park, and last week approved a 120-day exclusive negotiating agreement with The Related Cos. to hammer out a development plan for the property.

"The plans are very ambitious but we're going to do it," the mayor said, adding that development on that property will be "the lasting legacy of this council."

Preliminary plans for Union Park show it could include a hotel and casino, high-rise condominiums and office buildings, a performing arts center, an academic medical center -- the first part of which would be the Alzheimer's center -- and a baseball stadium.

"Imagine Reggie Jackson, No. 44, Mr. October, being the first African American owner of a baseball team situated in Las Vegas," Goodman said.

A baseball team would "give us a sense of identity ... a sense of self ... that we haven't had since the old days of the Running Rebels," he said.

Goodman, who has been working to lure a major league baseball team to Las Vegas, met with Jackson last month and discussed what Goodman said was their mutual interest in bringing a team to Las Vegas.

The Alzheimer's center, although part of the plans for Union Park, is not tied to Related's deadlines, and so can move forward on its own. Goodman said 1 acre has been set aside for the center, which the mayor said he wants to be occupy two floors of a six- to eight-story building.

The push to create the center is being led by Larry Ruvo, who heads Southern Nevada Wine & Spirits and has pledged $7 million toward the center. Goodman said $12 million has been raised for the center.

Ruvo said he intends to start construction of the center on Aug. 4 because that is the birthday of his late father, Lou Ruvo, who suffered from Alzheimer's before his death in 1994 and for whom the center will be named.

Larry Ruvo, senior managing director of Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada, said the center will probably open sometime in 2007.

He estimated the center will cost $15 million to $25 million and said he and Bobby Baldwin, an MGM Mirage top executive and another driving force behind the center, will cover any fundraising shortfall.

Councilman Brown said Snyder's $1 million donation will give a huge boost to efforts to open a performing arts center, which Brown said could run over $100 million for construction and the creation of an endowment to fund the facility.

Goodman told the crowd to go to the intersection of Main Street and Bonneville Avenue to look at the nearly completed World Market Center. The project, which Related is also a partner in, is expected to open in July and be the first of five new large buildings on that property, which is also near the 61 acres.

The mayor also noted the nearby Internal Revenue Service building on the north end of the 61 acres, which is expected to open next month. Also, the council has approved plans for another office building next to it that is expected to house offices of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Both of those buildings are projects by Molasky, who Goodman said will head a summit to bring additional businesses downtown.

"Basically it will be to promote the downtown as a business-friendly environment," Molasky said after the speech. He said he just agreed to lead the effort, and said it would take some time to bring the committee together.

The mayor said Molasky and other business leaders are needed because "government cannot do it by themselves."

The mayor also touted the downtown as a burgeoning social scene, with the entertainment district and arts and the city's 100th birthday celebration.

This year marks 100 years since the land auction that laid the foundation for modern-day Las Vegas, and hundreds of events are scheduled to celebrate the city's centennial including the return of the Helldorado Days parade and the world's biggest birthday cake.

Stacy Allsbrook, executive director of the Office of the Centennial Celebration, said they decided to have the mayor deliver his speech at the Golden Nugget because it is one of the older downtown hotels and downtown and the history of Las Vegas were key parts of the mayor's speech.

City spokesman David Riggleman said the centennial office, which includes some city staff on loan but receives much of its funding from the sale of centennial license plates, paid for the event.

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