Before North Las Vegas’ embattled Craig Ranch Regional Park became a $130 million headache for City Council members, the site was home to the city’s most popular golf course.
For nearly a half-century before that, the 170-acre site was, well, a ranch.
That’s sort of the way Parks and Recreation Director Mike Henley still sees the park set to make its debut Friday.
For him, Craig Ranch is already the crown jewel of the city’s 32-park system — exactly the type of bucolic, regional focal point City Council members set out to build three years ago.
“You should see it in the morning,” Henley said on a May tour at the unfinished site. “We’ve got nested red tail hawk here. We’ve got coyotes, otter out in the ponds, bluebirds. ... It’s beautiful.
“Usually when you get so invested in a project you lose the awe factor, but I never, ever get tired of it out here.”
Henley, a veteran of parks and recreation departments in Tustin, Calif., and Portland, Ore., is no stranger to big projects.
But Craig Ranch, which comes complete with a 65,000-square-foot skate park, four civic plazas and two planned amphitheaters, is his magnum opus.
Tack on a 5-acre dog park, access to the county’s regional trail system and 62 community garden plots for adults — as well as burlap sack slides, a water feature and climbing wall for kids — and Henley figures Craig Ranch offers something to hold everyone’s attention.
“It’ll be totally unique in the region,” he said. “It’s not just the character, the feel. There’s a lot of parks here that weren’t designed for active use, but this was designed for a four-hour stay. Everyone has something to do.”
The park missed a target grand opening date over Labor Day weekend, but managed to survive a third year of steep city budget deficits even as controversy over proposed admission fees, meant to offset roughly $2.2 million in estimated annual maintenance costs, continues to swirl around City Hall.
In fact, this week’s grand opening just got a little bit bigger, thanks to a multimillion-dollar donation from Clark County.
County commissioners this month voted to hand the city $6.5 million for a 7-acre amphitheater and pond at the largely federally funded park, part of a $35 million yearly room tax allocation split between Craig Ranch and three other Southern Nevada parks of “regional significance.”
Funding shortfalls in the revenue-starved city had threatened to push back amphitheater construction indefinitely.
County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, who spearheaded the push to land additional amphitheater funding, said he wanted to see Craig Ranch debut a little closer to full strength.
It doesn’t hurt that the park lies in county District D, where it could prove a major draw for Weekly’s constituents.
“I thought it was just the right thing to do,” the three-term commissioner said. “I approached them because I know, seeing their financial woes, that the community would suffer if they don’t move forward with that park.
“That would be a total disservice (to residents); so to me, it’s a win-win partnership.”
North Las Vegas spokeswoman Juliet Casey said grand opening special guests New York West, ‘Nuff Said and Richard T and the Stereo Band are set to play in an open area adjacent to the park’s central plaza while workers lay the groundwork for the new 3,000-seat venue.
City officials hope to see the amphitheater attract up to $300,000 in annual revenue once construction wraps up on the project in May 2015.
Those dollars, coupled with revenue generated through sports tournaments and park vendors, could go a long way toward easing the sting of projected park maintenance costs.
At least for now, first-term Mayor John Lee sees the park as an even better fix for injured city pride.
“North Las Vegas is very grateful to Commissioner Lawrence Weekly for his leadership to secure this funding for the amphitheater,” Lee said in a prepared statement Oct. 4. “We are thankful for the unanimous support of our entire County Commission.
“The commission’s vote recognizes the changes we are making to erase our city’s history of not playing well with others and demonstrates our commitment to the new spirit of cooperation by focusing on uniting our valley’s governments around regional interests.”
City officials look to unveil the regional park and future amphitheater with an opening ceremony scheduled to begin 9 a.m. Friday at 628 W. Craig Road.
Contact reporter James DeHaven at 702-477-3839 or firstname.lastname@example.org.