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Reasons to love Las Vegas

Last week, New York magazine’s cover story, titled "Reasons to Love New York," listed 59 reasons to heart the city, including No. 6: "We Finally Have Two Star Quarterbacks," and No. 19: "Brooklyn and Queens Are Competing to Be the Most Diverse Counties in America."

In the interest of keeping things positive on Christmas Eve, let’s borrow this idea and apply it to Las Vegas. Here are 15 reasons to love Las Vegas.

1. Las Vegas puts a great face on a bad situation. Consider that a city with one of the nation’s most troubled economies just opened a $4 billion resort. And web retailing giant Zappos.com recently announced it is moving its headquarters from Henderson to downtown Las Vegas, with ambitious expansion plans. Oh, and Wayne Newton plans to open his ranch, Casa de Shenandoah, for public tours. Hunkering down and waiting out the recession just isn’t in our DNA.

2. Las Vegas is ethnically diverse without being ethnically divided. In part because this is such a young city, its ethnic populations are not divided into distinct neighborhoods. It’s a mishmash across the valley, a melting pot of colors and cultures, and that’s a good thing for everybody.

3. UNLV basketball is back on the national stage. Not since Jerry Tarkanian’s semi-pro teams of the early ’90s have the Rebels had so much talent on the court. Las Vegas may never have a major pro sports franchise, but it does get excited about the Rebels when they’re good.

4. Downtown Las Vegas has an incredible future. It wasn’t always this way. Not so long ago, downtown looked to be at death’s door, a victim of suburban sprawl gone mad. Longtime residents might remember that before the Clark County Government Center was built downtown, there was serious talk of placing it in the suburban northwest. But thanks to a great deal of foresight and effort by city officials, much of downtown is resurgent today. It’s going to be a metropolitan focal point again by 2012 as several major projects open their doors, including the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, the new city hall, the mob, neon and children’s museums, and the relocation of Zappos to the old city hall.

5. All the great rock and pop acts play here now. We have a terrific set of live music venues that draws an eclectic array of musicians who in the not-so-distant past would have skipped Las Vegas on their tours. CityLife arts and entertainment editor Mike Prevatt offers this list of significant bands that graced a Las Vegas stage for the first time in 2010: Pixies, Belle and Sebastian, the Dandy Warhols, LCD Soundsystem and Scissor Sisters. Also, Leonard Cohen has been here twice in two years. And most importantly to me, the Drive-By Truckers have at long last booked a show in Las Vegas — March 3 at the Silverton.

6. The Stratosphere Tower. I rarely go there. I don’t think I’ve elevatored up to the observation deck in several years. But I love that the tallest freestanding observation tower in the United States was built by a casino maverick with a crazy dream. Bob Stupak, an eccentric in the gambling business, was entrusted with hundreds of millions of dollars to erect the 1,149-foot tower sprouting from the middle of a hotel-casino. He actually wanted to make it a lot higher but the FAA said no. A corporation probably never would have greenlighted such an audacious project. But there it stands, a geographical landmark visible from anywhere in the valley. It even has some thrill rides bolted to the top. And it’s not likely to ever be imploded. Too much shrapnel.

7. Three of the most fascinating men of the 20th century — Howard Hughes, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley — are integral parts of our history. Sinatra and Presley both have tribute shows now playing on the Strip. Still waiting for the Howard Hughes stage production, and wondering how Cirque would approach it.

8. Guest selection: Local lawyer/scribe Dayvid Figler, who, like lots of us, has a love/loathe relationship with his hometown, offers this love letter: "We keep dreaming, and we don’t just give up on our businesses. Everybody’s like, ‘Here’s my plan.’ It makes no sense — we’re at the bottom of the economy. But you can’t keep us down, no matter how much reality you throw in our face."

9. Las Vegas is home to more world-class synchronized swimmers than any city on Earth. According to a recent New York Times article, more than 30 of them are earning paychecks here. There’s nothing not cool about a bevy of professional water dancers thriving in the desert.

10-15. Personal reasons to love Las Vegas: the burrito bowl at Zaba’s Mexican Grill; the comprehensive new and used stock at Zia Record Exchange; the time-devouring literary labyrinth at Academy Fine Books; the Packers faithful on Sundays at the Draft House; and the fact that I’ve lived here my entire post-collegiate life and there’s tons of interesting, amazing stuff I still haven’t seen or done.

Geoff Schumacher (gschumacher@reviewjournal.com) is the Review-Journal’s director of community publications. His column appears Friday.

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