Dreams of downtown revitalization die hard in this town. While cranes and crews dot the landscape at the center of town, the vibe Downtown gives us is the same as always—a sort of holding pattern, forever awaiting better days when a seamless urban whole at last rises up beyond its disparate pieces.
Until recently, city leaders had been gung-ho about pushing development of a new city hall as the key to turning around the whole area. Only the prospect of undertaking an expensive project in the midst of a recession had at last cooled their jets. But the city hall talk got a push two weeks ago when the construction workers’ union, Laborers Local 872, announced that it had planned to use funds from its pension fund to finance part of the project and put its beleaguered members back to work.
But then, a few days later, the union clarified its position and claimed that the money wasn’t coming from its pension fund but would be funneled through the development arm of the national Union Labor Life Insurance Company (ULLICO). Local 872 and other unions around the country contribute to the company, but it’s unclear how much the Vegas union would be paying toward a new city hall; calls to the union were not returned.
ULLICO’s investment program, called J for Jobs, was created in 1977, and has funded more than 382 projects, to the tune of $8.6 billion, and created the equivalent of 200,000 full-time construction jobs. In Las Vegas, the national union company has provided funding to Turnberry Tower and to Wynn.
But why all the fuss about the new city hall? The answer, in part, is the chance to do something with the old city hall, which sits at the corner of Stewart and Las Vegas Boulevard and also includes police headquarters (the police are planning to decamp the complex). This brings us, in a roundabout way, back to that other big-ticket savior of Downtown, the mob museum. While attention has focused on the redevelopment of the old post-office building, little notice has been paid that it’s part of a potentially larger project.
According to a report written by Applied Analysis, a mixed-use project surrounding the museum could feature 200,000 square feet of retail, 150,000 square feet of offices and a 300,000-square-foot hotel. The project will likely be developed by CIM, redevelopers of the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. If a casino is built at the site, the report anticipates the project will create more than 3,000 jobs and generate $333 billion annually. It goes without saying that such a project would be more viable if developers can also rework the dull (and emptied) city hall site next door into something equally tourist-friendly.
In other words, as the national economy finally shows signs of improving, the next hot spot in Vegas may finally be its own Downtown. UNLV architecture professor Robert Dorgan, who runs the Downtown Design Studio, is enthusiastic about the possibilities of redevelopment there. “That new development might spur other new development,” he says. “I tend to think of it as a package deal. If you get more Downtown housing, better chance of getting a Downtown grocery, then you get a snowball effect.”