Local dreamers hear ideas on what Las Vegas can be

More than 100 undeniably bright people tossed around ideas Tuesday when asked, “What do we want Las Vegas to be?”

One suggestion: Emulate Orlando.

Bruce Katz, vice president of the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C., praised various cities for reinventing themselves when he gave the keynote speech at the city of Las Vegas retreat to plan for the future.

But when asked which city he would suggest as a “mentor city” for Las Vegas, he cited Orlando, Fla. He praised its innovations in transportation, including a light-rail system. “That’s the model for you to follow.”

Katz cited how other cities have improved themselves. Portland, Ore., has become an export powerhouse. Los Angeles and Denver have created state-of-the-art transportation systems. From a retreat similar to what the city sponsored, New York City diverted public and private capital into applied sciences, bringing educational efforts from institutions including Cornell University into the city.

Thirteen speakers presented their ideas, and then people broke into small groups to discuss their priorities in remaking Las Vegas for the future.

Improving transportation and taking a regional approach was one of the most popular suggestions, pleasing Tina Quigley, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission. “If we want to grow, we have to invest in two things. One is education, two is transportation,” she said in her presentation.

She is part of a new study group organized by Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President Rossi Ralenkotter. It is just starting an effort to work with people from the RTC, the airport, the taxicab industry, the shuttle bus industry, the monorail, the city, the county and business community.

In 18 months, that group expects to present ideas about the way to move people around the city “as best and as pleasantly as possible,” she said.

The group will present ideas on how to finance the effort, most likely including the extension of a fuel tax increase that began in January and is linked to the inflation rate.

When it began in January, the increase was 3.24 cents a gallon. By the end of the three years, the increase is expected to reach 10 cents a gallon.

For those three years, this tax is expected to raise enough to pay for $700 million in bonds for transportation, and 183 projects are planned.

Quigley believes if the public can see results and jobs are created, there will be support for extending that tax and keeping it linked to inflation.

Another priority named was expanding a medical district. Former Gaming Commission Chairman John O’Reilly, now chairman of the advisory board running University Medical Center, asked, “How do we change the world of health care in Las Vegas when it’s rated one of the worst places for health care?”

Answering his own question, he said there are enormous opportunities here to develop medical research.

He said studying medical marijuana “may be one of the things outside the box that may be helpful. Why can’t we be a research center for something like that?”

O’Reilly’s wife, Rene, died of cancer in 2012. After her death, he began working with the CEO of the Texas Medical Center on fresh ideas for medical opportunities for Las Vegas.

“He now believes we have incredible resources, and I’ve become a believer very quickly,” O’Reilly said.

Contact reporter Jane Ann Morrison at jmorrison@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0275.