Economic recovery as slow for Summerlin as rest of state

Once upon a time, Summerlin was a beehive of new-home development ---- that is, until the economic meltdown hit Nevada, and especially Las Vegas, with the force of a tsunami.

Since then, construction reminiscent of only a few years ago has slowed to a trickle, and even the most optimistic of minds doesn't expect it to fully revive in the near future.

Certainly the lingering recession ---- which, according to all indicators, continues to show little evidence of relief in Nevada ---- is playing havoc with the rest of America as well. But the tough times universally are not nearly as gut-wrenching as in Nevada, which leads the nation in some of the most depressed economic categories.

For the uninformed, the monthly numbers of mortgage defaults, home foreclosures and the unemployed continue to dampen hope of a Las Vegas recovery in the foreseeable future. On its face, this could result in having as much of a disheartening effect on Summerlin as on every other sector of the city.

Still, there is some light at the end of the tunnel, and it surely is not an oncoming locomotive.

An interview with Tom Warden, senior vice president of community and government relations at The Howard Hughes Corp., reveals that home construction activity in Summerlin has not come to a complete standstill.

"There are still some homes being built in Summerlin, and we remain hopeful that development will increase in the near future," Warden said. He referred to The Vistas, a development north of Charleston Boulevard and west of the Las Vegas Beltway. "Other new homes are expanding in that area with The Paseos, which is just beyond The Vistas in Summerlin West.

"There's also construction in Mesa Village at the southern tip of Summerlin, in the vicinity of the Bishop Gorman complex."

Asked who's buying new homes in Summerlin in the midst of such a depressed economy, Warden said, "Some people are buying to upgrade, and some are just looking to live in Summerlin."

Obviously, Summerlin remains a preferred location for many. It wasn't long ago that the 22,500-acre section of Las Vegas was receiving constant national praise, characterized as a model of excellence among master-planned communities throughout the country.

In fact, a little more than three years ago, The New York Times wrote about the merits of living in Summerlin, using some of the most glowing terms. Indeed, nothing has changed in that respect.

What has changed is an economy that has left Summerlin and the rest of the country in its wake. It also has left 7,500 choice acres in Summerlin West and Summerlin South waiting for development.

With the few exceptions mentioned by Warden, development has slowed to a standstill. That makes the community as a whole as much a victim as anyone else in Southern Nevada of an economy that stands in the vanguard, nationally, with some of the most depressed economic data.

It may be tough to swallow those monthly numbers that remind us Las Vegas leads the U.S. in foreclosures, mortgage defaults and unemployment. In fact, according to RealtyTrac, the nation's leading online marketplace of foreclosure properties, as of the end of August, Nevada had the highest rate of foreclosures of any state for the 56th consecutive month.

Moreover, one in every 118 housing units in Nevada was in foreclosure. But if you think that's tough to swallow, the numbers released by RealtyTrac just for the city of Las Vegas showed that one in every 103 housing units was in foreclosure during the same period.

There's no known extrapolation of these numbers for Summerlin or the northwestern sector of Las Vegas, beyond tangible indications that foreclosures and defaults are running just as high in these areas. And with the sharp decline in construction activity, it shouldn't be difficult to understand why Las Vegas' unemployment numbers persist at the top of the national list.

But hope remains eternal. There's even hope for that ghostly structure of steel beams southeast of Red Rock Resort, which has sat dormant for more than two years.

"The question is not if that regional shopping center will resume construction, but rather when?" Warden commented. "Unfortunately, there's little else going on right now."

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His newest novel, "All For Nothing," is now available. Contact him at