Las Vegas' glittering new City Hall drew gasps from visitors Tuesday, even as critics questioned the wisdom of borrowing about $185 million to pay for it.
The building, at 495 S. Main St., opened to the public, with several departments setting up shop as others are still at Stewart Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard.
It's part of a vision set forth years ago, before Southern Nevada's economy went off the rails, to revive the west end of downtown with publicly subsidized government and cultural facilities such as City Hall, a symphony hall and a children's museum.
"It's a big difference, my God," Mercedes Alhambra, 69, a longtime Las Vegas resident, said upon stepping into the marble ensconced foyer. "It is wonderful, it is so beautiful."
Alhambra and Luz Yarbrough, 65, were among the first members of the public to drop by the seven-story structure.
They marveled at the building's abundance of natural light and sleek design, a contrast from the building that had been the home of city government since 1973.
The decision to spend an estimated $146 million constructing and outfitting the building while simultaneously cutting staff and restricting service levels in response to plunging tax revenue has generated criticism.
Within hours of the public's first glance of the interior, the conservative think tank Nevada Policy Research Institute blasted city officials for the spending.
"The Las Vegas City Hall is a lose-lose for taxpayers," the institute said in a statement. "First, they must pay for its construction, with annual payments that grow to $13.4 million by fiscal year 2017 plus over $40 million in interest costs."
The building is a product of a lease-purchase agreement between the city and developer Forest City.
The city financed the project largely with low-interest Build America bonds backed by the federal government.
Forest City coordinated construction and will own the structure and lease it to the city, allowing the city to postpone repayment to the back end of the transaction.
Once the lease payments are complete, the city will own the building.
Asked about the estimated 1,900 jobs created to construct the building, institute analyst Geoff Lawrence said that though the project employed people, the repayment will use money that would have circulated in the private economy.
"The money taxpayers will have to pay over the next several years to foot the bill for that construction will take money out of the private economy and destroy jobs elsewhere," Lawrence said.
City Council members, including Mayor Carolyn Goodman and former Mayor Oscar Goodman, who championed the project, have tussled with critics over the wisdom of the deal, but city workers appear happy .
The building is LEED Gold certified, meaning it meets a high standard for environmental health and sustainability. Proponents say that will lead to happier and more productive workers.
In the city clerk's office, the first office to open to the public Tuesday morning, the bright, airy design was appreciated, as was the increase in space.
"It's big," said City Clerk Beverly Bridges, hustling between offices to coordinate candidate filing for the City Council Ward 2 special election. "I'll walk myself to death."