For the first time in its 38-year history, the Metropolitan Police Department has a place to call home.
The state's largest police agency last week began moving into a new three-building complex in downtown Las Vegas that will serve as its first headquarters and house most of the department's administrative and investigative units.
The complex at the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Alta Drive does not have a name, though some have called it Metroplex.
"It's not a fancy building, but it's a nice, practical building," Sheriff Doug Gillespie said.
The new headquarters will improve efficiency and internal communication for the Police Department by putting 27 agency bureaus in one place, he said. It also will serve as a one-stop shop for the public for many police services, including fingerprinting and records.
The closest thing to a headquarters now is the 70,000 square feet of space the Police Department occupies at Las Vegas City Hall. The rest of the agency is scattered around the valley in rented office buildings.
The new headquarters will reduce or eliminate drive time for employees who travel amongst many of the agency's offices and bureaus.
"To me it's going to save money and make a more efficient police department," said longtime Las Vegas City Councilman Gary Reese, who served 14 years on the Police Department's fiscal affairs committee before retiring from the council last week.
Police leaders have discussed building a new headquarters through the years. Recent discussions focused on a location in the heart of downtown Las Vegas, such as the old Clark County Courthouse or City Hall, which is being replaced with a new building.
The courthouse location was ruled out because it would require a high-rise building and underground parking, both costly requirements that would quickly multiply construction costs.
City Hall was ruled out because it only has 265,000 square feet of space, has limitations with its technological infrastructure and could be affected by the planned widening of U.S. Highway 95.
With those options ruled out the Police Department approached developer Mark L. Fine, who owned the 14.5-acre lot at the corner of Martin Luther King and Alta. The two sides reached an agreement in 2008 for Fine to build the complex and rent it to the Police Department for $12.2 million a year.
The county has the option to buy the property after three years. The minimum purchase price would be the larger of $167.4 million or fair market value, according to the contract.
The headquarters' annual rent is about three times the $4.2 million the Police Department pays to rent office space now, but Gillespie said the improved efficiency and communication make up for the roughly 2 percent bump in the overall budget.
"It's not going to be a money saver. We never said it would be," Gillespie said. "The part we can't put a dollar figure to is from an efficiency standpoint, what do we save."
Gillespie realizes some people might criticize the opening of a new headquarters during Southern Nevada's deep economic woes. He remembers agency cutbacks during the recession in the early 1980s and how long it took to recover from those.
He said he believes in pushing his agency forward, even during lean times.
Reese defended the timing of the new headquarters, saying its construction created jobs for people who might otherwise have been out of work.
County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who sits on the fiscal affairs committee, said, "When we signed off, it was a lot better times."
But the head of the union that represents about 2,800 rank-and-file Las Vegas police officers questioned the timing of the new headquarters, especially because it will cost more to rent than the current scattered office space.
"I don't think the building itself is a bad idea," said Chris Collins, executive director of the Las Vegas Police Protection Association. "I think it's a bad idea in this economy when you're asking the men and women who work for you to take pay cuts."
When the move-in is completed in early November, about 1,300 employees will work in the 370,000-square-foot complex comprised of one five-story building flanked by two four-story buildings.
The complex includes a secured 1,600-space parking garage for employees and 500 surface parking spaces where visitors can park for free, a change from the parking meters surrounding City Hall.
Another change that will be obvious to the public is the large waiting lobby for the records and fingerprint departments. With ample seating and a dozen service windows, the lobby is a far cry from the cramped space at City Hall.
As a bonus, the lobby includes public restrooms.
Public access to the rest of the complex requires a police employee escort. The secured floors look like typical offices with cubicles filling most of the open floor space and enclosed offices along the edges.
Building planners put the enclosed offices in the center of the building, however, so they wouldn't block the ample natural light coming in from the windows, said John Krueger, the agency's logistics director.
The complex also was built with environmental efficiency in mind. For example, all of the lights are computer controlled to turn on and off to coincide with employee work schedules.
Such energy-efficient features will save $1 million a year in power costs, Reese said.
The sheriff's office sits on the fifth floor of the middle building, giving the agency's top cop a prime view of the Interstate 15, the Spaghetti Bowl and the massive World Market Center buildings. It's not as nice as his view from his eighth-floor office in City Hall, but that's not important, he said.
"My view of my agency is going to be a whole lot better," Gillespie said.
Contact reporter Brian Haynes at bhaynes@review journal.com or 702-383-0281.