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[J. Patrick Coolican]

What can be done with the city’s half-built corporate eyesores?

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Boyd Gaming’s unfinished Echelon sits vacant on the Strip.
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J. Patrick Coolican

Sun archives

Imagine if the guy who owned the house next door tore it down and started building a cool new palace. Hard to imagine these days, but try to conjure it up. Then imagine that a third of the way into construction, he stopped building, leaving a half-finished shell for you to see from your window.

This is exactly what’s happened here, except instead of a property owner who couldn’t finish a house, we’ve seen companies stop their large commercial projects, leaving behind eyesores that have especially marred certain sections of our most important commercial boulevard, the Las Vegas Strip.

I suspect that if this happened to you, you’d have words with the neighbor and then visit City Hall. To a significant degree, however, this commercial blight has gone unremarked upon.

I can understand a certain reluctance to take action in the years immediately following the 2008 financial crisis, when we were all hoping our companies would stay afloat and were more than willing to give them whatever leeway they required to survive.

But it’s 2012, and it’s time government started forcing the property owners to — at the very least — improve the appearance of these properties, whose current status is driving down everyone else’s property values.

Which do I mean? There’s Echelon and Fontainebleau on the Strip and plenty of half-finished projects in the suburbs, at the Shops at Summerlin Centre, Manhattan West ... I could go on.

This has become a pet issue of Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who said she discovered the county doesn’t have an ordinance that would force property owners to do something to improve the appearance of half-finished properties. The county regulates the safety of dead work sites, which costs the owners fairly significant money, but that’s it.

“You wouldn’t do it in your neighborhood, but [commercial developers] do it on a regular basis,” she said.

Of the Strip, she said, “It’s the jewel, a scenic highway,” and, thus, its appearance should be protected.

Giunchigliani said she might have some leverage on beautification if the developers come in for time extensions or try to make changes to development agreements. She noted, with satisfaction, that Las Vegas Sands had wrapped an unfinished condo tower, which has improved its appearance; Riviera Boulevard, which had been closed, has re-opened; several unused construction cranes have come down; and an MGM Resorts-owned lot across from the Sahara has a new painted wooden fence in place of the old chain link. On the site of the demolished New Frontier, which was supposed to be a replica of the Plaza Hotel in New York City, Giunchigliani said the owners have put up wooden fencing and painted it and are responsible for graffiti cleanup.

“I’ve tried to do some things so it doesn’t look like a bombed-out area,” she said.

A spokesman for Boyd Gaming Corporation, which owns Echelon, said in an email that Boyd “remains committed to having a presence on the Las Vegas Strip. However, work at the Echelon site remains on hold at this time. We are presently developing concepts to enhance the appearance of the site and look forward to working with the county as these plans move forward.”

I look forward to Boyd’s announcement, and I wonder whether the company could have a contest, with artists competing to create a concept for the site. “The Gates” was a well-received conceptual art piece that graced New York City’s Central Park some years ago.

There’s a broader issue here than just the appearance of the Strip or other parts of the valley cursed with half-finished buildings that sit fallow. I’m speaking of the double standard by which corporations get to live by a different set of rules than us. If you declare bankruptcy or strategically default on your house, we’re led to believe there’s something shameful about it. But if a corporation does it, it’s sound strategy. If you left a concrete husk in your neighborhood, you’d face the social opprobrium of neighbors. When corporations do it, we throw up our hands and say, “Ah, what can you do?”

This column originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly, a sister publication of the Las Vegas Sun.
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