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Nevada downtowns could get boost from state program

Updated April 11, 2017 - 12:42 pm

CARSON CITY — An Assembly panel Tuesday debated a bill establishing a state program to help coordinate efforts to revitalize downtown areas throughout Nevada.

Assembly Bill 417, sponsored by Assemblywoman Heidi Swank, D-Las Vegas, would create the Nevada Main Street Program within the Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs.

The bill proposes a $500,000 account that would be used to issue grants to help encourage public-private partnerships to spur economic development. Kathy La Plante, coordinator with the National Main Street Center, said the program has been around for 38 years and has helped breathe new life into countless downtown areas.

“The downtowns aren’t going away,” La Plante told members of the Assembly Government Affairs Committee, adding they are either “going to look tired and old” or contribute to local economies.

Implementing the program would allow the state to tap into the national nonprofit’s expertise and training opportunities to help coordinate efforts.

“It’s not just a matter of throwing a lot of money at a community … or putting up new light poles,” La Plante said. “It’s about promotion, marketing downtowns … promoting it as the center of a community.”

Swank said the program is “not just for small towns or big cities.”

“It’s for a range of folks,” she said.

La Plante gave examples from other states, noting Oklahoma has 33 programs under its Main Street Program. A state budget of $470,000 generated $2.8 million in gross fiscal impact, she said.

New Mexico, she said, has invested $11.6 million in the program since 1985 and leveraged $1 billion in total investment, creating 11,400 jobs and representing a return on investment of $44 for every $1 in public funds spent.

Rawlins, Wyoming, with a population of 9,000, decreased its downtown vacancy rate to 10 percent from more than 40 percent, she said.

The bill received wide support from counties and cities around the state. No one spoke against the bill and no action was taken by the committee. A similar bill died in the Senate in 2015.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3821. Follow @SandraChereb on Twitter.

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