Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008 | 2 a.m.
The future of Las Vegas starts Tuesday.
As many of you know, I have had the good fortune of being born in Las Vegas during the prehistoric age, which has allowed me the opportunity to see not only the birth of this most remarkable city but also the rebirths, reinventions and every other iteration of what has been consistently one of the fastest-growing and most prosperous cities in the United States.
Since Bugsy Siegel opened the doors of the Flamingo — just a few days after I was born — the story of this town has always been one about its future. Las Vegas did not become the Entertainment Capital of the World because it was content to rest on its laurels. We did not become the envy of the economic world because we were content to dwell on our history at the expense of our future. And we have not remained the innovative leader of tourist-oriented cities because we were happy to do things the way we did them yesterday, forsaking ideas about how to grow tomorrow.
No, if you ask around — the block, the nation or the world — you will hear it almost unanimously that what has happened in Las Vegas was allowed to stay in Las Vegas just long enough to make everyone else a bit jealous and a bit envious of our success.
Lately, however, we have fallen victim to the same kind of excess that has cast an economic pall over the country and a good part of the world. Whether it is cyclical, whether it is the deserved result of spending run amok and credit run through the roof, whether it is the natural result of capitalism left unchecked or whether it is the result of a hundred other human failings, the fact remains that Las Vegas — its institutions, its industry and the very fabric of the people who live here, work here and call this their home — is facing significant challenges.
Life is not particularly good. People are losing their jobs and their businesses because the tourist engine that has been responsible for Las Vegas’ meteoric rise to fame and fortune for the past half-century is sputtering badly. Add to that a credit crunch that makes the doable practically impossible, a leadership void in Carson City that takes any good idea and turns it into a nightmare, and an electorate — which wants nothing more than leadership to help us through this thing — growing more and more desperate with each passing day.
But, as is always the case, there is some good news.
Las Vegas and the United States will come out of this mess. We always do. And when that happens, we need to be ready for the next exciting chapter in our lives. We can do that by flying by the seat of our pants as we did for the first 50 years of our modern lives, or we can put some thought, planning and leadership behind how we grow and prosper during the next half-century.
I believe most people will opt for the latter, which is why I am so proud to inform everyone — if they don’t already know — that on Tuesday, Las Vegas will take a significant step in its maturation. “Megapolitan Las Vegas” is coming to our town in the form of a collaboration between the prestigious Brookings Institution in Washington and UNLV. Here’s the disclosure part: I am a trustee of the Brookings Institution, and my family is a significant financial donor to UNLV and full of rabid basketball fans to boot. That raises the obvious question: Shouldn’t everybody be a UNLV supporter?
In any event, there are leaders in our community — Thom Reilly from the Harrah’s Foundation, mind and land developer Mike Saltman, Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid, to name a few — who have recognized that if we want to grow toward a quality future in Southern Nevada, we have got to start building our way there today.
It is true that when times are not good, that is when opportunity presents itself. While many in our city are just trying to figure out how to get through today, there are people who are thinking about and doing what is necessary to build all of our tomorrows.
That is why Dr. David Ashley at UNLV and the scholars at Brookings are coming together this week to present what is part of Brookings’ “Blueprint for American Prosperity.” This years-long study of the southern Intermountain West, which includes Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada, is premised on the fact that these states are experiencing some of the fastest population growth, as well as an economic and demographic transition unlike anyplace else in the country.
What the Eastern Corridor — from Washington to Boston — was to the United States in the middle of the last century, the cities of Denver, Salt Lake, Albuquerque, Phoenix-Tucson and Las Vegas will represent in the next half-century. If we do it right.
Anyone who has traveled on the East Coast knows that transportation, power, water and other necessary infrastructure projects have been the key to that area’s sustained success. A coming together of the Intermountain West’s states in a cohesive way will effect responsible federal-regional and state policy in much the same way it did to make the Eastern Corridor successful.
The presentation on Tuesday is just the beginning and is deliberately planned for a small, motivated audience. But that group can and should represent a most powerful leadership core that will take the knowledge provided by Brookings and share it with the entire Southern Nevada community and its counterparts in the other four states.
I am pleased to have played a small role in bringing Brookings and Las Vegas together in a way that facts, figures and credible information will help determine the proper and wise course for a quality tomorrow.
But I am far more excited about the kind and quality of leadership that has voluntarily stepped up to the plate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. John Ensign are scheduled to participate Tuesday. That is the kind of recognition this ambitious multistate project needs to meet the challenges ahead. Similar presentations to local and regional leaders are taking place in the other states.
When times are tough it is difficult to lift up our heads and look toward the future. But that is exactly what we must do and Tuesday is exactly when we must start.
Besides, what else does Las Vegas have to do? We sure as heck aren’t going to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves. That’s for suckers.
Brian Greenspun is editor of the Las Vegas Sun.