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Trailblazing building: Government Center to mark 20 years

The Clark County Government Center, 500 S. Grand Central Parkway, turns 20 on June 3.

The building is generally regarded as one of the more successful and groundbreaking ones in the valley, which may be surprising considering the joking around before the building’s groundbreaking ceremony.

“The county was supposed to pay the city (of Las Vegas) $10 for the land,” said Clark County Museums administrator Mark Hall-Patton. “County Commissioner Jay Bingham came out the night before and buried a leather satchel with a $10 roll of quarters in it.”

At the ceremony, Bingham explained that it had been known for years that the site was going to be there and proved it by hauling the satchel out of the ground, breaking open the roll of quarters and handing then-Mayor Jan Jones the double fistful of coins. What he didn’t notice is that when he dropped the roll wrapper in the satchel, there were still two quarters inside.

“The county started the deal by shorting the city 50 cents,” Hall-Patton said.

The coins weren’t even a drop in the bucket of the $68 million price tag for the building, which has become an iconic landmark in a city known for its unusual buildings.

Many of the county services had been housed in the Bridger Building, 701 Bridger Ave., before the construction, but many other county offices were spread across the valley and hard to find, particularly for residents who had to visit county government services from the valley’s more rural areas.

The county had planned to consolidate services on a plot of land it owned outside of the city on county-operated land, but Jones campaigned to keep the city and county governments downtown, where the two entities could communicate more easily and get together for meetings. That led to the $10 deal to sell the county some of the property from the former Union Pacific Railroad switch yard.

“I flew back to Maryland, where the Union Pacific Railroad was headquartered, and negotiated with the CEO for the acreage,” said Jones, now Jan Jones Blackhurst, senior vice president of communications and government affairs with the Caesars Entertainment Corporation. “I told him I would help him with the master plan of the rest of the acreage, which would make it easier to sell.”

She was convinced that keeping the governments together was one of three things that were vital for the preservation of downtown. The other two were preserving the economic engine of the businesses already in place and a master plan for commercial, retail and museum spaces.

“Redevelopment is a long process,” Jones Blackhurst said. “You’ve got to put the template in place; you’ve got to preserve the economic base, the economic engine and the critical mass, and the rest will come.”

The call went out to architects for designs for the building. Many submitted work, but it was the design by Denver-based firm Fentress Architects that was chosen.

The requirements were basic: The building was essentially a large office with few special needs, and the design could go a number of ways.

“You can build anything,” Hall-Patton said at an April 10 tour of the facility. “You could build a box. At least one of the applicants did design a very nice box. (Curtis) Fentress came in and looked at the area and started thinking that it should reflect Clark County.”

The result was the rough red stone surface and the curves and spokes emanating from a central lobby that has since been reflected in structures from apartment complex common buildings to Red Rock Resort, 11011 W. Charleston Blvd.

Hall-Patton’s tour was recorded by Channel 4 television cameras and is set to be edited into Clark County Television’s 20th anniversary special about the Government Center, scheduled to premiere at 8 p.m. June 19. It is scheduled to air numerous times during the month and then periodically after June. The programming schedule is at tinyurl.com/cctvsched. The channel is is available in the Las Vegas area on Channel 4 on Cox cable (Channel 89.13 for those without converter boxes) and on CenturyLink. It is also available online at clarkcountynv.gov.

To reach East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor, email ataylor@viewnews.com or call 702-380-4532.

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