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August 20, 2014

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Hopeful predictions for a likely disappointing 2012

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J. Patrick Coolican

I have a warring nature: I’m an optimist who expects the worst to eventually happen. So here’s what I’m hopeful about this year, though I’m sure it will be terrible.

Economic stability: The Strip is back, with tourists and conventions approaching pre-recession levels. Kudos to the marketers, who keep coming up with innovative ways to lure the suckers. (A Lynyrd Skynyrd bar!) The new airport terminal could be a boon to international conventioneers and tourists. And on that international note, massive overseas profits have put at least two of our Strip companies — Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts — on strong financial footing, while MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment achieve some stability.

Off the Strip, the velocity of transactions in the residential real estate market is impressive and suggests some kind of bottom, especially for properties under $100,000.

Caveats: Based on the number of underwater homes, we could still have another 100,000 foreclosures or distressed sales to cycle through.

More important, stability is not progress. We’re still more or less exactly what we’ve always been — a one-horse town.

Schools: As Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones finishes his first full school year, he’s putting reforms in place. Hopefully, we’ll see some short-term results, especially in his triage efforts to get on-the-brink high school students to graduate.

Caveat: The challenges are huge and can’t be met in a year or two, or even five. And expect institutional resistance from the lifers. By one measure, the Hispanic graduation rate of the class of 2008 in Nevada was 29.6 percent, and not much better for the rest of the students. This means our valley is being flooded with uneducated, low-skill workers.

Downtown: The new, albeit totally unnecessary city hall is coming, while Zappos heads downtown into the extant city hall. This will bring jobs and commercial activity to a resurgent downtown.

Caveat: We’re about 20 years behind other cities when it comes to downtown revivals and still way short of what’s needed for it to really take off. You can’t have a viable residential area without a real grocery store. Or some measure of safety — physical, if not psychological.

Finally, can we stop treating Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh like a benevolent king? Great neighborhoods are usually built organically through thousands of small acts of leadership, responsibility and entrepreneurialism, not by a single company. Otherwise, you get a company town. Pretty soon they’re paying you in Zappos scrip and you’re singing the “Cumberland Blues.”

The Smith Center for the Performing Arts: The striking structure adds to a rich, if blurry and abstract, architectural mosaic downtown. And the venue will greatly diversify our cultural offerings. Just as important, the educational program will introduce children to the world of culture beyond Celine.

Caveat: Will we support it?

Metro Police: Thanks in part to the investigative series in the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the sheer number of officer-involved shootings in 2011, there’s serious discussion about our police agencies’ use of force. Metro Sheriff Doug Gillespie seems committed to reviewing policies, and this could lead to some much-needed introspection about the community’s relationship with police.

Caveat: Or, Metro is defensive and insular, and there will be no progress.

Brookings Institution: The venerable bastion of East Coast establishment policy thinking has set up shop at UNLV and seems ready to set the terms of debate in advance of the 2013 Legislature. It offers policy expertise of the noncrazy variety and can help us develop a long-range plan for a way out of our mess.

Caveat: Fancy elites may have little or no effect on what actually gets done. In fact, my whole list is too tilted toward fancy elites. What we need is energy at the grass-roots, at the neighborhood and school and park levels. We need to stop accepting the way things are and start demanding better.

Oh well. There’s always the next year.

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  1. I really wish I agreed but:

    Economic stability: The figures I keep seeing show that gambling per visitor is persistently down. In addition, gambling profits and tips that were kept here in Vegas was the historic engine that drove income to the town. Now corporations increasingly take their profits elsewhere to fund competition to Vegas. This in combination with the lack of alternative industries, increasing use of on call/part time hotel workers, the per person fall in gambling income, and the consequent fall in individual tip income is a recipe for local economic malaise.

    Housing: Absent out of state investor groups trying to find a place to dump cash are using the outstanding values of housing here to buy multiple houses. In the short term this artificially raises prices and rents and keeps families from buying homes to actually own and live in. This in concert with low tips is another possible cause of local economic malaise.

  2. "Metro Police: Thanks in part to the investigative series in the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the sheer number of officer-involved shootings in 2011, there's serious discussion about our police agencies' use of force. Metro Sheriff Doug Gillespie seems committed to reviewing policies, and this could lead to some much-needed introspection about the community's relationship with police.

    "Caveat: Or, Metro is defensive and insular, and there will be no progress."

    Coolican -- the latter, in my opinion. In 2012 I'd like to see Metro's thugs weeded out and heavy hands smacked hard.

    "If the exercise of constitutional rights will thwart the effectiveness of a system of law enforcement, then there is something very wrong with that system." -- Escobedo v. State of Illinois, 378 U.S. 478, 490 (1964)

  3. "We're about 20 years behind other cities when it comes to downtown revivals"

    And yet, no mention of (a) which other cities you mean, and (b) the age of those cities compared to the 106 years of Las Vegas.

    Downtown revitalization is inherently based upon the life cycle of a city, and Las Vegas is the only major city founded in the 20th century. San Diego, founded in 1769, began its downtown process in the 1960s, but progress did not become tangible until Horton Plaza was built in 1985.

    Based on that example, Las Vegas is about 100 years ahead of schedule, rather than behind.

  4. Reza

    Vegas 100 years AHEAD of schedule??? How?? LOLOLOL

    It doesn't take much to realize that revitalizing the downtown area is just NOT building highrises, or any housing for that matter. You need more than bars, casinos, and pawn shops. You need places that everyday residents can use, yes, a grocery store would be nice, a real store, not those mini-marts.

    Vegas' idea of a "residential downtown" is way off. It's a joke. Until someone with insight and vision realizes what is needed, it will never be what a metropolitan area's "downtown" should be. Add in Fremont St., it could turn into one hot area for everyone.

    And PLEASE don't bring up the age thing. Vegas is great at reinventing itself and expanding, so now let it reinvent the downtown area into a livable area for the residents with all the amenities.

  5. When we look at stable, thriving, older cities around the World, one picture comes into full view: a vibrant market place. This is essential so as to care for local residents, as well as draw the tourist into local culture.

    Let's see a market place as the thriving Town Square near the Henderson area, placed into Downtown Las Vegas! By strengthening what we have, we have the economy we want.

    Cheers, Blessings and Peace,
    Star