Summerlin continues to grow despite economic decline

If you think the economic landslide of recent years put a chill on Summerlin, guess again. Even though construction came to a near standstill, foreclosures became the most popular real estate activity and bankruptcies and unemployment were rampant, Summerlin not only endured, but its population continued to grow at a whopping rate.

By comparison, official growth numbers and other data can explain in detail the sizable hit Las Vegas has taken in all sectors of the economy during the same time frame, leaving questionable the city’s ability to fully recover in the near future.

But not so for Summerlin. In fact, those same numbers indicate that in the first decade of this century, Summerlin experienced the second-largest population growth rate of any sizable community in Nevada —- second only to the city of North Las Vegas.

Talk to some Las Vegas officials, and they’ll bemoan just the opposite, the fact that many folks have up and left the city —- and, in a shocking number of cases, abandoned their homes —- leaving in their wake an accelerated economic mess.

By contrast, talk to Tom Warden, senior vice president of community and government relations for The Howard Hughes Corp., and you come away with the feeling that Summerlin is well on the way to fulfilling its mission of becoming one of the most successful master-planned communities in America.

"We’re close to being halfway there," said Warden, speaking of a goal that will ultimately provide housing for 220,000 in a fully developed Summerlin. And Warden should know, since Hughes Corp. is the developer of Summerlin.

"Our estimate is that Summerlin’s population was at 100,000 by the end of 2010, which is an increase from about 59,000 in the year 2000," Warden explained.

That represents an estimated population rise of 69 percent for Summerlin in the first 10 years of this century. During that same period, all of Las Vegas grew by just 22 percent, according to U.S. Census data. Comparatively, the city of North Las Vegas showed a population increase of 87.9 percent between 2000 and 2010. Ahead of Las Vegas, but lagging behind Summerlin in population growth for the decade, were Henderson at 47 percent, Sparks at 36.1 percent and Reno at 24.8 percent.

In measuring statistical data, however, there’s one major difference when we refer to Summerlin’s population growth. There are no separate U.S. Census data for the entire 22,500 acres designated as Summerlin. That’s because the community is broken into two distinct entities. One portion is contained within the northwest sector of the city of Las Vegas, and the area referred to as Summerlin South is situated in a section of unincorporated Clark County.

The U.S. Census Bureau provides population numbers for municipalities. But because of the nature of its boundaries, Summerlin as a whole does not fit into that parameter. Still, and irrespective of the fact that Summerlin South is not a municipality, census numbers not only exist for that area, they show an explosive growth between 2000 and 2010.

Summerlin South grew from 3,735 residents in 2000 to 24,085 in 2010. And it’s still growing at an enormous pace, with an additional 3,962 residents by the end of 2011. That represents an astonishing population growth rate of 651 percent for Summerlin South in the last 11 years.

"There are no U.S. Census data for Summerlin as a whole, but our estimates are pretty close to the actual numbers," Warden said. "We based our 2010 estimates on about 40,000 homes, and that includes Sun City, which is part of Summerlin."

The formula for estimating Summerlin’s population growth is similar to that used by state demographer Jeff Hardcastle of the University of Nevada’s College of Business, who earlier this year provided annual "official state estimates" of municipal growth.

"Just as other economic indicators are showing, we’re sort of leveling off," Hardcastle said at that time, referring to Clark County’s population growth of 13,462 last year as due largely to births.

Warden, however, pointed to new home sales in Summerlin as a "very strong" indicator for measuring growth.

"Thus far, home sales in Summerlin are more than double what they were a year ago," he said, "and we anticipate the outlook to continue in a very positive direction."

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His newest novel, "All For Nothing," is now available. Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.

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