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September 2, 2014

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Las Vegas council hopes to replicate downtown progress in new redevelopment district

Lois Tarkanian

Lois Tarkanian

Stretches of Las Vegas streets totalling some 883 acres were designated today as a new redevelopment area with hopes that the kind of economic renaissance happening in downtown’s redevelopment area will be duplicated.

The newly designated area includes much of the ward of Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian, who admitted the area “isn’t a mess now, but I wanted to react before it got to that point.”

Others pointed to the existing downtown redevelopment area, whose 3,948 acres include East Fremont Street, as an example of what can happen when the city gets involved in redevelopment. Four years ago, the city laid new sidewalks and streets in a portion of East Fremont, and changed licensing and zoning rules to encourage bars and eateries to move into the area.

In that time, a few blocks of East Fremont have seen significant improvement, with a handful of restaurants and bars having opened there. A big part of that push was the announcement in late 2010 that Zappos, the online shoe and clothing retailer, would lease and move into the old City Hall in late 2013.

Anticipating thousands of Zappos employees moving into the area, new businesses are starting to take heed. The first few blocks of East Fremont Street are now almost devoid of sights that used to be commonplace: prostitution, drug dealers and other signs of blight.

Councilman Stavros Anthony, a former police officer, admitted that downtown “was a growing menace for a long time. … Nobody would come down there. You risked your life going onto Fremont Street past Las Vegas Boulevard.”

He argued against the new redevelopment designation, however, because he doesn’t see anything near to that kind of problem in the designated 883 acres. Streets in the new redevelopment zone include parts of Sahara Avenue, Charleston Boulevard and Decatur Boulevard, west of Interstate 15 and east of Decatur.

“It’s not a menace to public safety and health; it doesn’t fit that category,” Anthony said.

If anything, he added, businesses in the area have suffered because all businesses have suffered during the economic recession.

“Really what’s occurred is because of the downturn, and when the downturn turns around, and it will, these corridors will come back,” Anthony added.

Councilman Bob Beers also said he didn’t like the potential of the proposal to give the city the ability to use eminent domain to transfer property from one private entity to another.

Mayor Carolyn Goodman said that wouldn’t happen under her watch. Bill Arent, the city's director of Economic and Urban Development, said the City Council passed a resolution in 2006 not to do that, adding that eminent domain for private-to-private property transfers was “bad policy.”

As of today, the total assessed value of those 883 acres is $287 million. In the future if the assessed value increases, any additional property tax revenue generated would go to the redevelopment agency and put back into the redevelopment area in the form of various improvements.

The redevelopment agency also can float bonds and obtain loans to finance projects.

Arent said a 1 percent increase in the property tax base (which would equal about $2.87 million) would result in $72,000 for the redevelopment agency to reinvest in the area. Over the 30-year life of the redevelopment project, that equals about $2.2 million.

Inherent in a redevelopment plan, however, is that tax revenue put back into the area is money taken away from schools, police and other public functions. The theory is that redevelopment bolsters so much new economic activity that sales and other tax revenues make up for that loss.

During lengthy debate by the council, supporters leaned heavily on the example of downtown’s redevelopment, including East Fremont Street but also the 61 acres of former rail yard now home to the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, World Market Center and the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

Beers and Anthony voted against it, while Goodman and council members Bob Coffin, Tarkanian, Ricki Barlow and Steve Ross voted in favor.

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