When Oscar Goodman was elected Las Vegas mayor in the spring of 1999, his top priority was downtown redevelopment. At the time, he surely believed he could turn things around in just a few years.
After almost 10 years in office, Goodman has made notable progress in transforming the downtown area, but the task is a long way from being completed. In fact, I'd estimate the mayor's vision is barely 25 percent realized.
That's not a criticism per se. The sobering fact is that downtown revivals in other cities have taken decades, and despite Goodman's charismatic dedication to the cause, there's no reason to think Las Vegas will be any different.
This week, Goodman gave his State of the City speech, and once again he focused the bulk of his attention on downtown. His unflagging commitment to redevelopment is commendable, and his eagerness to see major projects come to fruition is palpable.
The major projects under construction or in the planning stages have the potential to create the economic vitality and urban sophistication that Goodman envisions for downtown. The ambitious Union Park master plan, site of the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute, Smith Performing Arts Center, World Jewelry Center and Charlie Palmer hotel-casino, would go a long way toward giving downtown a whole new vibe and reason to exist.
Meanwhile, the so-called mob museum, subjected recently to national ridicule after Goodman foolishly suggested including it in the economic stimulus package, is also a worthy project. Although Goodman insists on calling it a "mob museum," thinking this to be a marvelous marketing angle, the city's past involvement with organized crime is only one of the planned attractions. A history museum, located in a historic building, will be a valuable addition to downtown, where it all began.
Alas, the global economic crisis has not done downtown redevelopment any favors. The Brain Institute is almost finished and probably will be able to function somewhat independent of the bleak economic climate, but the fate of the other projects is less certain.
As an unfortunate result, it may be another 10 years before Goodman's vision for downtown becomes a tangible reality. But that's no reason to give up or slow down. One hopes that long after Goodman leaves office in 2011, downtown redevelopment will remain the top priority of city leaders.
I know I won't vote for a mayoral candidate who doesn't embrace the downtown revival.
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Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager Pat Mulroy and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada do battle on practically a daily basis over the merits of the rural water pipeline project. Mulroy is the leading advocate of securing a second water source for Las Vegas, while PLAN is working to defeat the project.
But this week, it was interesting to see that Mulroy and PLAN made some provocative statements that had little to do with the rural pipeline. And they both made a lot of sense and deserve credit for sticking their necks out.
As part of a panel discussion sponsored by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., Mulroy outlined dire climate change scenarios and blasted federal leaders for not acting more aggressively to deal with the potential effects.
"We have not spent any time in this country investing in the science of climate change in any kind of concerted action," she told an audience of several hundred. "We have not spent time talking about how we are going to adapt."
Mulroy predicted severe water shortages in Southern California and Southern Nevada if the Southwestern drought, which started in 2002, persists for a few more years. She said this drought and other climate change effects could "wipe out whole economies." Tapping Mississippi River floodwaters to quench thirsty Western cities was among her creative ideas.
Mulroy is exactly right on our lack of action. Climate change is real and serious. Perhaps Mulroy's pointed comments will serve as a catalyst to get Washington moving on this issue.
PLAN, meanwhile, released a report charging that Nevada's tax structure places an unfair burden on the poor. The report suggests, among other things, creating a business profits tax and increasing the mining tax rather than slashing already meager state services.
"Nevada doesn't have a spending problem," PLAN contends in the report. "It has an income problem." According to its analysis of state tax revenue streams, PLAN quips: "If Nevada's tax system had a motto, it might be 'soak the poor.' "
When the Nevada Legislature meets in February, lawmakers will be looking for the most palatable mix of strategies to increase revenue and reduce expenses. All of PLAN's proposals are not likely to make the cut in Carson City, but the group deserves credit for boldly presenting the progressive viewpoint. It's a welcome counterbalance to the ubiquitous rhetoric of conservative groups such as the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and Nevada Policy Research Institute.
Geoff Schumacher (firstname.lastname@example.org) is publisher of Las Vegas CityLife, owned by the same company as the Review-Journal. His column appears Friday.