New North Las Vegas mayor promises to help businesses cope with downturn

New North Las Vegas Mayor Shari Buck sums up her economic agenda in one word: Jobs.

Buck, who is still getting used to being in the spotlight in spite of a decade as a North Las Vegas city councilwoman, said stabilizing the city’s struggling companies is a top priority.

She knows she must move quickly. Not yet three months into her first term, Buck faces the unenviable task of figuring out how best to keep the city strong financially. The depth of the recession in Southern Nevada wasn’t foreseeable when she first planned her successful run for office a year ago, she said.

“No, I didn’t think it would get this bad,” she said. “We have seen down times before, but not this bad. This is disheartening. More people will lose their homes.”

However, Buck said, the overall economy’s struggles have been tempered somewhat in North Las Vegas due to good planning and pent-up demand for services. For example, since 2005, the city has put aside about 18 percent of its revenues annually. That compares favorably with the 10 percent reserved by most cities, she said. Today, North Las Vegas is still setting aside 14 percent of its revenue.

Sound economic policies don’t stop with the city’s budget, Buck said. The small companies comprising the backbone of the North Las Vegas economy must get help.

“My dry cleaner closed up,” she said. “It’s important for the city to help businesses whenever you can.”

To that end, the city and the North Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce are staging a series of workshops for companies. The forums will let business owners tell the city what they need to survive.

Few, if any, items are off-limits for discussion, Buck said. The city may consider fee deferment as a way to help companies stay viable. North Las Vegas officials may also consider loosening advertisement restrictions to aid businesses. Outside banners and other forms of on-site advertisements aren’t allowed now in North Las Vegas, Buck said; the city does not even permit advertising in shop windows.

Buck gave her first major speech as mayor Aug. 27 at Directions North Las Vegas, an economic forum presented by the North Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by the Business Press. Before the speech, Buck promised an upbeat yet realistic message.

“I can’t stand up and paint a picture that everything is great, because it is not,” she said. “But I can go over our community’s needs, and address them. I can and will do more than sit and watch (the recession) happen.”

Buck said she wants the city to be on track to reap the rewards of a future recovery.

“I will be talking about our strengths and why we are still as good value,” she said. “We need to have the edge when the economy starts back up. We need to make sure at the end of the day they say, ‘We’re glad we came to North Las Vegas.'”

The other prong of Buck and the chamber’s plan to aid North Las Vegas businesses will require residents’ support. Buck said citizens need to band together, much the way they did in the 1940s to help in the war effort, so the city can sustain its own economy.

“We need to be very patriotic locally,” she said. “We need community patriotism.”

The city of North Las Vegas and the North Las Vegas Chamber are pushing to get North Las Vegas residents to “buy local and stay local.” Chamber President Sharon Powers is sure residents will respond favorably to the campaign. She agreed with Buck and other North Las Vegas officials that the city had a pent-up demand for retail and other goods.

“Retail is definitely been hit the most, even big-box stores like Costco and Sam’s Club are impacted,” she said. “But we were kind of behind the eight ball for a number of services. You could buy clothes at Wal-Mart but there were no diversified shopping choices.”

Some local businesses leaders applauded the steps city leaders are taking.

“I think anytime the chamber and the city work together, it is a positive thing,” said Jerry DeMangus, the general manager of Jerry’s Nugget.

North Las Vegas faced challenges before the larger economy began to erode; the city’s aging downtown was ripe for redevelopment. But many of the those projects are now on hold indefinitely, including the $120 million mixed-use Las Flores near the Silver Nugget, city economic development manager Mike Majewski said. Las Flores’ 2010 completion date is no longer considered realistic.

“They (the Montecito Cos.) are still getting their permits,” he said. “If they broke ground in 2010, they could complete it in 2011. But they can’t assume debt without any return (on investment).”

North Las Vegas Redevelopment Manager Larry Bender said the delay has also slowed plans to revamp the Silver Nugget on Las Vegas Boulevard North. But Majewski is heartened knowing the stalled projects are not dead.

“The developers still want to do (these projects),” he said.

Buck talks about the importance of community and downtown revitalization not as a dispassionate politician, but as someone who has grown up in the city she now leads.

Buck’s roots are deep in North Las Vegas. Her father was among the first to graduate from Rancho High School. Buck was born in North Carolina but her family moved back to North Las Vegas when she was 6. She briefly moved to Idaho when she first married, but missed her city and returned.

“I grew up with a vibrant downtown where people would go shopping,” Buck recalled.

Although the downtown of Buck’s childhood won’t likely return in appearance, that vibrancy could begin to re-emerge once the recession ends.

An out-of-town investor is considering plans for a major mixed-used commercial and office project along the “island” stretch of Lake Mead Boulevard downtown. However, the city has chosen to put out a request for proposals for development on parcels owned by the North Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency, Bender said.

Other bright spots for North Las Vegas’ economy include he $600 million Veterans Affairs Hospital going up at the corner of North Pecos Road and the Las Vegas Beltway.

Construction on the hospital should wrap by 2011 with the first patients arriving in 2012. The hospital will have 90 beds and a nursing facility with another 120. It is expected to double the number of local VA employees by adding up to 1,000 new jobs. Two of four phases are already complete, said spokesman Steve Stern, the VA’s special assistant to the director.

The hospital will be across the Las Vegas Beltway from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ North Las Vegas campus. The two have agreements to work together, Stern said.

The VA hospital and UNLV campus are expected to bring ancillary medical businesses and other companies to the surrounding area for decades to come, Majewski said.

“UNLV took 30 years to build on Maryland Parkway. This is a long-term project,” he said.

One shorter-term development has cranes moving dirt across Civic Center Drive from Majewski’s office: The new $135 million North Las Vegas City Hall. All of the city services will be consolidated in the one site.

Bender is not shy at pointing out the difference between North Las Vegas and some of its neighboring communities.

“Las Vegas isn’t building their city hall, but we are still building ours,” he said.

Buck predicts that even the recession will have a few positive effects on North Las Vegas.

“What I like to see is (that) because of the struggles, we see more of a sense that people want to take care of each other,” she said. “Neighbor taking care of neighbor, it has made our community cohesive.”

Contact reporter Valerie Miller at vmiller@lvbusinesspress.com or 702-387-5286.

Contact reporter Valerie Miller at vmiller@lvbusinesspress.com or 702-387-5286.

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