Las Vegas city officials visualize a diverse downtown makeover

With an eye to development strategies used in cities such as Denver, Las Vegas city officials gathered Tuesday to chart a multifaceted path for the future of downtown, one that includes inviting pedestrian zones and promotes mixed-use development.

Tuesday’s joint Las Vegas City Council and Planning Commission session focused on a strategy for guiding downtown development across diverse areas, from the Medical District to the Arts District and Fremont East.

Lisa Wise, whose California-based firm Lisa Wise Consulting has worked with such cities as Austin that feature thriving downtown centers to implement an urban form code, presented some possibilities Tuesday for downtown Las Vegas.

Form-based codes have been used in Nashville, Tennessee, and Los Angeles. The concept focuses on making streetscapes more inviting for pedestrians, promoting mixed-use development and providing more certainty for communities and developers. Such regulations can make it easier to mix uses in development and design guidelines, but it can be very detailed and can be costly.

Wise’s presentation referred to the city’s previous Centennial Plan as ineffective zoning to achieve the city’s vision for downtown Las Vegas because it didn’t tell developers what to expect and because standards on building height, setbacks, lot coverage and frontage were minimal or nonexistent.

The City Council adopted a revamped master plan earlier this year, called “Vision 2045,” which replaced the Centennial Plan. City Planning Director Tom Perrigo said putting in place new codes is the next step in that plan.

Wise suggested tailoring regulations to create unique areas throughout the city, which will emphasize individual neighborhood character, rather than using the same rules across a broad swath of the city.

One of the main focuses, enhancing pedestrian access, is a reaction to the trend among the millennial generation of moving away from more automobile-reliant suburban living. Seniors, too, are driving less and walking more, Wise said.

Wise’s presentation focused partly on the success that form-based codes have had elsewhere, in such cities as Petaluma, California; Mesa, Arizona; and Denver. Petaluma created a theater district, for example.

But Las Vegas Planning Commissioner Glen Trowbridge emphasized Las Vegas’ originality in implementing new regulations for downtown development.

“We’re different. … We really are,” Trowbridge said.

City staff will continue to talk with council and commission members and form city district-level working groups, said city planning section manager Robert Summerfield.

There are already some initiatives that are moving in the right direction in downtown Las Vegas, Wise said.

“It’s about harnessing that energy,” she said.

Contact Jamie Munks at or 702-383-0340. Find @JamieMunksRJ on Twitter.

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