Architecture firm abandons North Las Vegas master-planned community

A renowned architectural firm has pulled out of a $500,000 deal with the city of North Las Vegas to develop a master-planned "international business community" in the city, citing the political controversy that surrounds the proposal.

Officials at Gensler, which has offices around the globe, notified city officials Monday of their decision.

The plan had drawn criticism from Mayor Shari Buck and Senate Majority leader Steven Horsford as a waste of money at a time when the city is struggling financially.

Critics also didn't like the fact that firms other than Gensler, which oversaw the seven architectural firms brought in to design CityCenter in Las Vegas, weren't given the opportunity to bid for the design of the master plan.

"I'm relieved and so are many others," Buck said Tuesday. "The money can now be used to shore up this year's budget."

In January, Buck cast the lone council vote against paying Gensler to develop the first phase of the master plan, calling the plan a scam.

Other council members supported it, saying the plan would spur economic development in the city.

Councilman Richard Cherchio said Gensler's withdrawal was unfortunate.

"It's a very good project, and it would do very good things," he said. "Hopefully, we'll eventually get it back in place and move forward."

Developer Otis Harris, whose Unibex Global Corporation has a public-private partnership with the city to create the master-planned community, had recruited Gensler for the project.

The partnership's focus was to create in North Las Vegas a "recognized global destination for international business" that could include "clusters" of universities, health care and high-tech industries scattered throughout the city, including in its downtown redevelopment area.

The first phase would have included a detailed program, budget, development objectives and approach.

"North Las Vegas threw its chance away," Harris said Tuesday. "If they're more concerned about politics than the people and the economy, then so be it. You can't build when you're constantly being attacked."

Gensler "got tired of the crap that's been going on," he said.

Harris has claimed Buck opposed the plan because she has a personal vendetta against him.

Harris wrote the mayor a letter in November asking whether she had "a racial problem" with him. Harris is black. The mayor is white.

The letter accused the mayor of "trying to sabotage" the public-private partnership "from day one."

The mayor said she resented the letter's implications.

"It was disappointing that someone -- because I don't support his project -- would stoop to calling me a racist," Buck said.

Horsford issued a statement about the Gensler matter Tuesday, saying, "Wasting taxpayers' money is never acceptable."

Constituents in North Las Vegas "need their elected officials to be looking for ways to make every dollar go further," he said.

Horsford said he supports development projects that create jobs.

"In the contracting process, however, there needs to be transparency, efficiency and accountability for every dollar spent," he said.

In a letter to the city, Robert Cousins, Gensler's senior associate, left open the possibility that the deal could be resurrected.

"Should the political situation be resolved at some point in the future, we would be happy to resume discussions ... as to how to move forward in a productive manner," Cousins wrote.

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at or 702-383-0285.