Las Vegas Sun

August 23, 2014

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DAILY MEMO: CITY HALL:

Downtown’s biggest booster unbowed

But economy undercuts Mayor Goodman’s pitch

During his two-plus terms in office, Mayor Oscar Goodman’s drive to redevelop downtown Las Vegas has been relentless.

Reluctant developers have acknowledged they were persuaded to take on downtown projects in part because of the mayor’s untiring advocacy.

So it’s not surprising that even in the face of a tough economy and several recent setbacks downtown, the mayor continues to push the effort on which he’s staked his legacy.

At a recent City Council meeting, Goodman said he had made a decision not to bow to the pressures of a weakened economy.

Redevelopment efforts will continue, he said, “with the expectation that the financial situation will be resolved ... At the end of the day, we’re going to be right where we should be as a great American city.”

Is the mayor’s optimism enough to sustain the city’s redevelopment successes during a downturn?

Indeed, Las Vegas has made progress in the past few years toward the mayor’s vision of a gleaming downtown, one with hordes of young and yuppified full-time residents, a reinvigorated small-business base and glittering night life. Look at the burgeoning signs of life in the Fremont East District and on Third Street, renovations at several downtown casinos, the impressive plans for Union Park and the deal to renovate the Lady Luck.

Yet even in the best of times, downtown redevelopment has been a tough sell, in part because of the twin troubles of crime and homelessness. And that was before the local economy dropped through the floor.

Downtown businesses and the city that wants to support them are facing times as tough as they’ve seen in decades.

Here are just some of the signs that the city’s quest to redevelop downtown has hit hard times:

World Market Center officials confirmed they have delayed the groundbreaking of their fourth megastructure, a 17-story building to sit next to its three other furniture showroom behemoths near Interstate 15.

Several swanky new condo projects downtown, including one just a block from City Hall, have encountered troubles selling their units. More than 30 percent of the units in three of these projects remained unsold as of mid-June.

This caused one of those condo properties, Newport Lofts, to lower its prices by 30 percent.

The perennially troubled Neonopolis plaza, across the street from the Fremont Street Experience, remains mostly empty despite fevered attempts by Goodman to fill the storefronts.

Step outside downtown and look at the Las Vegas Valley on the whole and the signs are no less bleak.

Financing problems are delaying construction of major casino projects on the Strip. Airlines have argued against building a third terminal at McCarran, concerned about filling the seats on their planes.

Unemployment and home foreclosures are up. Tourist spending, gaming revenue, new home construction and the region’s population growth rate — all down.

There’s little question that even Goodman will have a hard time making his downtown pitch heard above the din of all that dour news.

Yet the mayor and others at City Hall continue to be bullish, claiming now is a great time to invest in downtown.

Perhaps in one sense this is justified — condo prices are low, and city licensing officials are bending over backward to make it easy for businesses to open downtown.

At their most recent meeting, Councilman Gary Reese echoed other council members when he said he recognized the tough economic forecast the city is facing.

“This doom and gloom stuff, I don’t know when it’s going to get better,” Reese said. “I’m sure it will — I just don’t know when.”

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