In 2005, the parcels of land where the World Market Center and the Allure condominium tower are located generated, together, a little under $171,000 in property taxes.
In 2008, the combined tax bills, which include revenue going to schools and local and state governments, totaled $4.8 million.
The striking numbers are at the heart of the case the city of Las Vegas is making to defend its redevelopment program, which provides incentives to those who bring development into a defined area or make improvements to existing buildings.
The public investment creates jobs, raises property values and diversifies the economy, city officials say.
Critics, though, such as the ones behind a proposed ballot measure challenging the redevelopment plan, question whether those benefits really flow from having a redevelopment agency.
Did redevelopment create this new revenue, drawing projects to blighted areas in and around downtown?
Or would that development have happened regardless, meaning that millions of dollars that could be going to schools and public services is instead subsidizing condos and retail space?
City officials hold that redevelopment is an overall plus. Without the projects that have been completed over the past five years, property values would have atrophied even before the economy started seizing up, said Scott Adams, the city's business development director.
"While you're seeing big increases on individual properties ... when you put it across the whole district, they're flattened," Adams said. "We think these big new construction projects are the reason it's averaging out.
"If they're going way up (and) the whole district isn't going up as much, that means some of the other properties aren't."
In other words, what the city is trying to show is that without redevelopment projects, the development area -- already considered blighted when the first district was created in 1986 -- would have seen more slippage in property values, meaning less property tax money for the entities that rely on it.
"Had we not done some of those big projects," Adams said, "you would've seen a continuing erosion."
For the World Market Center, one of the largest recipients of redevelopment agency help, the incentives offered made the difference between building downtown or elsewhere in the valley, said center spokesman Andrew Maiden.
The developers were looking at several locations, and downtown at the time did not have the infrastructure to support such a large commercial venture.
In all, the World Market Center received $24.7 million to help pay for new roads, utilities and site improvements. That money is being paid in annual installments of $2.5 million out of the new tax revenue generated by the development.
"They had to incur a lot of upfront costs," Maiden said of the developers. The financing "was one of the major reasons that they decided to choose downtown."
Chris Bohner, research director for Culinary Local 226, complained that the full benefits of new development aren't flowing to where they're needed the most. The union has mounted an aggressive campaign against several redevelopment initiatives, saying the city is helping developers while not doing enough to ensure the projects are good for workers and people in the community.
He pointed to a difference in tax rates between properties in the redevelopment area and those outside of it.
In both cases, the overall rate is 3.2714 percent. Inside the redevelopment area, though, 1.8 percentage points of that amount goes to the redevelopment agency to pay for incentives and improvements. Outside of the area, there is no RDA line item.
So, for example, outside of the redevelopment area, 2.12 percentage points of the property tax rate is for state, county and school revenue. Inside the redevelopment area, 0.88 percentage points of the rate is.
"The redevelopment agency is taking a skim off the top of the property taxes that would be going to the schools, the police and these other entities," Bohner said.
The counterargument is that the development generating that "skim" wouldn't be there if there wasn't a redevelopment push in the first place.
The redevelopment area is set to expire in 2031. At that point, all the property tax revenue, including the additional amount generated by development, once again flows to the other entities.
The key to a successful redevelopment plan is being able to "create actual market opportunities for businesses so that they don't have to sell the business on the idea of being there," said Bill Robinson, an economics professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "The businesses look at what's going on and are automatically attracted to it."
Robinson said he is pleasantly surprised at the success of the World Market Center, which offers exhibit space for the home furnishing industry. Each of its semiannual events has an estimated $90 million local nongaming economic impact, and it's expected to contribute 35,000 direct and indirect jobs when it's fully built out. There have been 6,000 construction jobs at the site over the last four years, Maiden said, as well as jobs at each of the hundreds of exhibitors.
The city also points to new bars downtown, such as The Griffin and the Downtown Cocktail Room, as well as renovated hotels on Fremont Street, the Las Vegas Premium Outlets mall and the soon-to-be-completed Lou Ruvo Brain Institute at Union Park.
Ultimately, it's not tax breaks that will lead to the redevelopment area's success, Robinson said.
"It's really the fact that you have this one element that attracts other people down there," he said, such as a sports stadium. That has worked in other cities.
But Robinson doesn't expect Las Vegas to be able to get a downtown arena.
That leaves a handful of other projects to be that draw.
A new office complex anchored by a new City Hall, as has been proposed? A new casino at Union Park? The planned and under development Mob Museum? The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, expected to break ground this year?
"If it's going to create a broad-based, regular stream of people, then it could turn out to be that kind of thing," Robinson said. But, "it's pretty hard to get people to come back into downtown."
Adams, of the city of Las Vegas, said the city still has a long way to go toward a successful redevelopment district.
"We're not there yet. We clearly have not turned a corner yet. We're still building momentum."
Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate @reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.