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Economic hope seen in North Las Vegas masterplanned community


North Las Vegas leaders first signed off on blueprints for the massive Park Highlands master planned community in 2006.

Eight years, two bankruptcies and one recession later, plans to break ground on the 2,600-acre community near Aliante Parkway and the Las Vegas Beltway are alive and well, if heavily revised.

The 15,000-home development — billed as “one of the few remaining large-scale development opportunities in the Las Vegas area” — counts as the largest master planned community set to visit the Las Vegas Valley since the start of the Great Recession.

Four separate developers expect to sink $3.2 billion into the project over the next 10 to 15 years, working more or less concurrently on parallel master plans first presented to City Council members on Wednesday. City leaders expect to put those development agreements to a final vote on May 21.

Contractors already have grounded utilities and storm drains throughout the westernmost master plan, where two development companies hope to dig into 4,000 homes on 600 acres between Decatur Boulevard and Aliante Parkway by the end of the year.

A different pair of commercial and residential landowners hope to start putting up 11,000 homes on 2,000 less-developed acres in the easternmost master plan by 2015, development representative Bob Gronauer told the city council last week.

A consortium of five real estate investors paid $639 million to purchase Park Highlands from the Bureau of Land Management in 2005, around 30 times what a California-based investment group spent to buy most of the property out of bankruptcy last year.

All told, Park Highlands has fallen in and out of the hands of seven owners since city leaders last looked at the project.

So in some ways it’s a shock, Gronauer said, that builders now find themselves just weeks away from swinging hammers at the site.

“The reason why I’m standing here today is because back in January you, Mayor, and council members, said you’d like to see some action here by spring,” Gronauer said. “So the good news is we’re going to move forward tonight.

“Developers are interested in moving here. They’re ready to build in North Las Vegas. … It’s your turn to see something good happen.”

LIGHTING A FIRE

Developers, too, gave plenty of credit to the first-term mayor.

SunCal Development Vice President Frank Faye, the California-based executive charged with building out Park Highlands’ western master plan, said the project might not be where it is today without city leaders’ efforts to light a fire under landowners.

“The business community believes in the city,” Faye said. “There’s no better evidence of that than seeing SunCal, the largest master planned community developer in the country, investing in this city, with a $3 billion project.

“If that isn’t a vote of confidence for the city of North Las Vegas, I don’t know what is.”

Mike Walline, SunCal’s director of Land Development, said it wasn’t backroom feuding that sparked developers’ decision to cut the original master plan in half, but necessity.

He and Crescent Bay Holdings’ Geoff Beer agreed the project covers enough ground for “two or three master plans” and probably should have been split up from the get-go.

Beer, a principal investor with the development company set to build residential properties on Park Highlands’ eastern master plan, said a split development model also should help foster a healthy rivalry between west and east side builders.

Developers on both sides of the Aliante Golf Course — Park Highlands’ new east-west dividing line — expect that will be a good thing for prospective renters and homeowners.

“They were always intended to be different,” former North Las Vegas Mayor and commercial developer Mike Montandon said Thursday. “The west side is more of what I would call a subdivision, while the east is more of a master plan.”

Montandon, who left office in 2009, owns some 70 acres of commercial property on the east side of the project, a stake he and former Insight Park Highlands partner Jim Zeiter purchased for $7.8 million in September. They bought it from American West Homes, one of the project’s five original developers. Only one of those original stakeholders, Standard Pacific Homes, still owns a share of the development.

Montandon has big plans for his end of Park Highlands, including a large tract he hopes to model after the Walmart-anchored shopping center at Decatur Boulevard and the Las Vegas Beltway.

“You can always tell when something’s right, when’s something’s about to get done,” he said. “For me that wasn’t until early February, so I’m just excited to get going.”

ECONOMIC OPTIMISM

Once one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation, North Las Vegas has shed more than 1,000 employee positions and shaved $211 million off its bottom line since 2008.

The city has seen tax revenues fall by half since the start of the Great Recession, and recently it was named the riskiest non-bankrupt municipal bond investment in the country.

Officials haven’t said how much Park Highlands might net the cash-strapped city in future tax revenue. They have said it’s far from the city’s last, best hope for an economic recovery.

Long-awaited deals inked recently with municipal bargaining groups allowed the city to submit a balanced tentative budget to the state tax department this month.

That seems to have ushered in a new sense of economic optimism at City Hall, where officials hope Park Highlands will count as just one of many new projects set to come on line in the weeks and months to come.

“These (development) agreements were put together at a much more robust time economically, so I think this demonstrates a lot of confidence in this team,” City Finance Director Darren Adair said. “It’s a wonderful investment on (developers’) part and a vote of confidence for the direction the city’s going.”

Contact James DeHaven at jdehaven@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3839. Find him on Twitter: @JamesDeHaven.

 

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