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September 2, 2014

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Goodman stays positive despite tough economy

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Leila Navidi

State of Las Vegas: Mayor Oscar Goodman gives the 2009 State of the City address at the Fifth Street School in downtown Las Vegas on Jan. 13.

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The messages at Las Vegas’ State of the City address last week were not that different from previous years.

A lot has changed since the last State of the City speech, however, and despite the positive spin Mayor Oscar Goodman put on the evening, it’s clear some challenges are ahead.

The crippling economic downturn has affected Las Vegas, as it has the country, but Goodman’s speech had the same optimistic tone that has been a constant throughout his tenure.

“I have to be optimistic because I believe in what I’m saying,” Goodman said. “I believe that Las Vegas is going to become a world-class city and be the first one to come out of this challenging economic time.”

Goodman began by praising the City Council and pointing to successful projects in each ward.

He singled out Councilman Ricki Barlow for his efforts, which included luring Buy Low Markets to West Las Vegas and enticing Bank of America to open a branch in the neighborhood. West Las Vegas had been without a full-service grocery store since Von’s closed its Owens Avenue store more than four years ago.

Goodman praised outgoing Las Vegas City Manager Doug Selby for establishing a “leaner, bolder city governance” and expressed confidence in Selby’s replacement, Betsy Fretwell, to meet the challenges that are ahead.

The mayor also commended the city’s employees for agreeing to open up their collective bargaining agreements and negotiate a 1 percent concession to help offset a projected $150 million deficit in the city’s budget by 2014.

“They didn’t have to do that,” Goodman said afterward. “The collective bargaining contract is an agreement, and they could have told us to go jump in a lake. I give them a lot of credit because I think they wanted to help their co-workers to make sure we didn’t have to indulge in massive layoffs.”

Goodman said the gesture by the city employees is an example of the spirit of cooperation that will help keep Las Vegas moving in a positive direction.

As significant as what Goodman said at the address were the things he did not say.

He neglected to mention, for example, that some at City Hall think the city will still be facing a budget deficit in the coming years despite employee concessions and other budget-cutting measures.

He also made no mention of the Mob Museum, a pet project that has become a lightning rod for criticism from politicians throughout the country. Although the project, which is to be in the old Post Office on Stewart Avenue, is well under way, it will require additional federal money to complete. Some of that money is expected to come from President Barack Obama’s proposed economic stimulus package, and critics say the project is an example of the pork-barrel projects that would diminish the effectiveness of the package.

Goodman also talked at length about downtown development projects such as Union Park, the CIM development that includes the Lady Luck and the Mob Museum, and the Forest City Enterprises project on Main Street that includes a proposed City Hall.

These projects face serious money challenges because of the tight credit markets. Chef Charlie Palmer, who has a boutique hotel planned at Union Park, said financing is the main obstacle to his project.

“If we could just get the banks to give us some money, we’d be in great shape,” Palmer said.

The Forest City and CIM projects have also have drawn criticism from the Culinary Union, which has opposed the developments at City Council meetings. The union recently started a petition drive to put a referendum before voters to repeal the city’s redevelopment plan.

If the petition drive is successful and the voters go along with the Culinary, all of the downtown projects could be in jeopardy.

Goodman did not address the criticism directly but, in a clear statement of the city’s position, gave every indication Las Vegas will remain steadfast in its resolve to move the projects forward.

“If we fear failure or criticism so much that we fail to act on what we know is in the long-term best interests of our city, we become part of the problems, not part of the solution,” Goodman said.

Goodman also gave a vote of confidence to the redevelopment agency and its director, Scott Adams.

“I’m going to call upon Scott Adams and the Business Development Department and the redevelopment agency to take the lead,” Goodman said. “This is not a call to reckless expenditure of precious taxpayer dollars on ill-conceived projects. This is a call to continue our wise long-term investments with the kind of programs and projects that yield benefits for the social, cultural and economic fabric of our city.

The public-private partnerships, Goodman said will help diversify the city’s tax base and expedite the economic recovery.

“We will assist the private sector as much as we can to have successful projects,” Goodman said. “We’re going to go forward with the projects that we have planned in order that future generations will not be cheated as a result of this time in our economy.”

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