Opening of new NLV city hall brings praise, criticism


North Las Vegas employees will move into a spacious new City Hall next month, but comparatively few of them are left to fill it thanks to layoffs and a hiring freeze.

The $127 million, 210,000-square-foot building was meant to house nearly 600 city staffers. But only about a third of that number will be moving in, leaving vacant plenty of offices and up to an entire floor of the nine-story building at 2250 Las Vegas Blvd. North, near Civic Center Drive.

"The good thing is we have space to lease out," Mayor Shari Buck said Wednesday.

She added that if she could have predicted what would happen to the city's finances after a new City Hall was conceived years ago, she would not have supported building it.

"Of course I would have said, 'Let's wait until things pick up,' " she said.

The new City Hall has become a bone of contention in the cash-strapped city. Critics nicknamed it the "Taj Mahal" and said it was a waste of money when the city had none to spare.

North Las Vegas leaders decided to build a new City Hall about five years ago, when the city was still among the nation's fastest-growing and flush with cash. An ever-increasing number of employees were crammed into the 45-year-old City Hall -- a short walk down Civic Center from the new one -- and modular buildings.

"We had long since outgrown it," Councilwoman Anita Wood said. She added that the old building leaks when it rains, suffers frequent power outages and contains asbestos.

Concerns about asbestos ruled out the possibility of building extra stories on top of the flat building.

The city's original plan included razing the old City Hall and building a new police headquarters. But the city doesn't have the money now. So it's "still working on what we're going to do with it now," Wood said.

The new City Hall was meant to include plenty of room to grow. Officials estimated about 350 employees from various city departments would move in upon completion, and they believed the building would fill up in future years as the city's remarkable growth continued.

As it turned out, "the timing certainly was bad" for building the new City Hall, Wood said. Only about 200 employees will be housed there now.

Wood was elected days before the June 2009 groundbreaking on the building. Buck and Councilman Robert Eliason are the only current council members who were in office when plans for the building were approved. Eliason did not return a call seeking comment.

The city struggled to make do with plummeting revenues as the economy collapsed in recent years, trimming more than $60 million from its general fund budget and cutting or freezing about 1,000 positions.

North Las Vegas had a difficult time balancing its 2012 budget, leading to worries about potential state takeover of the municipality. City leaders discussed selling the new City Hall as a way to save money, then leasing it back. That idea proved impractical, with officials predicting doing so would cost the city more than it would save.

The city now employs about 1,300 people -- some 850 of them public safety workers, who work at police stations, fire stations and the jail.

By the time it became clear how bad things would get, it was too late to pull the plug on the new City Hall, Buck said.

"We had already committed the bonds," she said. "We made the decision to keep people employed, to keep construction workers in the valley, with the knowledge that the economy will turn around."

The new City Hall, which sits on a 12-acre site, came in about $15 million under budget. Municipal services will be consolidated there, including the city's administrative services, building safety, economic development, human resources, finance, public works and city management. New City Council chambers will seat more than 300 people, twice the capacity of the current chambers. An outside agency has expressed interest in leasing an entire floor of the building, Buck said.

The city also is pursuing vendors to fill 3,000 square feet of retail space in the building.

The site includes an outdoor civic plaza funded by a $6.3 million grant from the Bureau of Land Management.

The new building opens Nov. 21.

North Las Vegas officials hope it will serve as a cornerstone of the city's downtown redevelopment.

"Hopefully it will be a motivation for existing businesses to revitalize their properties," Buck said.

Consolidating services in a single location will make things easier for residents and business owners, she said.

But the building's opening brings mixed emotions because of the city's recent struggles, the mayor said.

"I'm excited for the building," she said. "It's beautiful and will be a great representation of our city. At the same time, it comes at a difficult time for us."

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.

 

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