Residents of the historic West Las Vegas neighborhood said the closure of F Street in September 2008 seemed symbolic of segregation.
But Thursday, when F Street reopened and traffic once again flowed between the predominantly African-American community and downtown Las Vegas, there was a different symbolic feeling — reunification.
About 200 residents and dignitaries celebrated the mood in a 45-minute ceremony that culminated in state, local and community officials cutting a ribbon that joined McWilliams Avenue with Bonanza Road along a two-lane, quarter-mile underpass of recently widened Interstate 15 north of the Spaghetti Bowl.
It was the widening project that closed F Street in the first place in September 2008 — or as the Rev. Sylvester Rogers intoned three times in his invocation for the event, “six years, one month and 24 days ago.”
Symbolism came with a hefty price tag. The project, completed by Las Vegas Paving on time and on budget, cost $13.6 million.
But city and state officials speaking at Thursday’s event indicated the price was worth righting a wrong and beautifying the underpass with 12 tiled murals depicting people and locations significant to the history of the neighborhood and two towers that are replicas presenting architecture reminiscent of the Moulin Rouge, the city’s first integrated casino.
The entire process, from closure to reopening, also was a learning experience for the government leaders involved in the process, with the Transportation Department hiring two additional public information officers tasked with making sure the public understands every detail of a new project so that miscommunication such as the F Street closure never happens again.
“The big takeaway for the agency is really how we do outreach to the public, said Tracy Larkin-Thomason, deputy director of the Transportation Department in Southern Nevada and the master of ceremonies for Thursday’s event.
“It’s no reflection on engineers, but public outreach is not our strong point. We tend to be too technical and not everybody understands us. We should basically use non-technical jargon and make sure we’re clear in the message of what’s going to happen so people know what to expect. Technically, we met all the criteria of our outreach, but bottom line, it wasn’t enough.”
Las Vegas Councilman Ricki Barlow said when he first heard about the F Street closure in phone calls from constituents, he didn’t believe it. After he got his second call about a notice posted at the site, he went there to see it for himself.
The experience of the closure and the reopening of F Street should refocus the efforts of the community, he said.
“We’re going to get the community engaged from Day 1,” Barlow said. “The community will have a seat at the table as it relates to the revitalization of the community. It will no longer be a government coming in telling the community what they’re going to do, but it’s going to be a shared relationship and collaborative effort to discuss how, in fact, the community wants the community redeveloped moving forward.”
Goodman said it was clear that Westside neighbors didn’t understand that the street was going to be closed and that the Transportation Department didn’t understand the significance that would have on the community.
“I don’t think they (the Transportation Department) realized the social, intellectual, philosophical, emotional and psychological impact that this was going to do to an entire community,” she said.
Contact Richard N. Velotta at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3893. Find him on Twitter: @RickVelotta.