Thursday, May 14, 2009 | 2 a.m.
F Street's dead end
UPDATED STORY: Senate panel advances initiative to reopen F Street
The West Las Vegas group opposing the permanent closure of F Street has in the past six months held countless neighborhood meetings, worked the media and government officials, and marched on the Strip.
But until state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, recently entered the picture, nothing seemed to get the attention of the state and city officials it blames for closing the street connecting the historically black neighborhood to Union Park, where the city plans to build a new downtown.
Horsford has introduced an amendment to mandate that the Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency foot a bill as large as $70 million to reopen the street. Horsford, who grew up in West Las Vegas and whose legislative district includes the area, said the closure at the city’s behest would continue a decades-long pattern of disregard and mistreatment of the neighborhood, near downtown.
“This would cause an enormous hardship for residents,” Horsford said. “It has to do with the viability of West Las Vegas to be able to grow and prosper as a community.”
This has been the main concern of the group Stop the Closure of F Street: that regardless of intent, the street closure separates them from the gleaming new developments of Union Park, considered by Mayor Oscar Goodman to be his crowning achievement, and much of the rest of downtown. Shutting off access not only makes it more difficult for residents to access retail, medical and government facilities nearby, it makes it much more difficult for the community to develop economically.
Horsford’s amendment, introduced before the Senate Government Affairs Committee, would direct the redevelopment agency to transfer up to $18.6 million to an agency called the Southern Nevada Enterprise Community Board after July 1. The board would work with the Transportation Department to carry out the project. The amendment also mandates that the redevelopment agency arrange for a “long-term financing agreement” for another $51.4 million, presumably as bonds, or simply pay the amount to the board in a lump sum.
Scott Adams, the city’s chief urban redevelopment officer, and Councilman Ricki Barlow, who represents the area, testified against the amendment during a May 8 legislative hearing.
The proposed amendment has yet to be voted on, but it must be by Friday to have a shot at becoming law.
Adams said Horsford’s amendment isn’t feasible.
“We don’t have that kind of money,” Adams said. “It just flat-out doesn’t exist.”
The recession has left the redevelopment agency with no cash and no bonding capacity, Adams said. But he added that he’s still interested in working with Horsford to reach a resolution both can live with.
Horsford disputed this notion, saying that if the redevelopment agency could find ways to fund a local strip club’s beautification efforts — a reference to a $50,000 agency grant to the Olympic Garden for signage — it could find a way to fund F Street.
The City Council voted in 2006 to close F Street as part of the project to widen I-15 from the Spaghetti Bowl to Craig Road in North Las Vegas. The vote also called for a connector to be built between F and D streets, south of Bonanza Road, so that the neighborhood wouldn’t be entirely shut off from downtown.
City officials explained the closure would move cut-through traffic to the wider D Street. Officials also said the proposal was partially prompted by a fatal accident on F Street involving a cement truck and a moped.
The closure of F Street at the corner of McWilliams Avenue took place in September. The area underneath the I-15 overpass, where F Street used to be, has been turned into a dead end.
As of late last year, state transportation officials said reopening F Street would cost $20 million to $30 million. That number has risen to $40 million to $70 million, according to Horsford.
Transportation Department officials have said that because the city asked for F Street’s closure, the city should pick up the tab if any agency is held to account.
After being enlisted to help by Stop the Closure of F Street, Horsford, along with Democratic Assemblymen Morse Arberry, Kelvin Atkinson and Harvey Munford, wrote Transportation Department Director Susan Martinovich on April 16.
The legislators noted that the Transportation Department is funding two major projects in Northern Nevada for a total of $700 million to $800 million — a bridge and an extension linking Reno and Carson City. If the agency can afford to spend hundreds of millions on “engineering feats” in Northern Nevada, the legislators wrote, “surely we can afford to spend a few million in Southern Nevada giving the people of West Las Vegas access to employment on the Las Vegas Strip, health care at the University Medical Center and government services at city and county complexes.”
Martinovich responded April 20. She noted that the department’s original design for the area kept F Street open. The City Council made the change to close the street, she said, because they were concerned about cut-through traffic, including by large trucks.
“It is not the responsibility or obligation of the State of Nevada to provide for the funding to make the changes,” she wrote.
Trish Geran, the local writer and activist who leads the F Street closure group, said Horsford’s involvement has been a blessing.
“What it means to the community is that there’s a sense of hope. We feel like we’re finally being represented properly,” she said. “We’re proud of Sen. Horsford for standing up.”