A Summerlin downtown looms on the horizon

Ever since it was founded and named for Howard Hughes’ grandmother, Summerlin has been a quiet suburban section of Las Vegas that sits at the western-most reaches of the city. For the most part, it has been a carefully designed, master-planned bedroom community.

For that reason there has never been a “Downtown Summerlin.” There has never been a reason to have one. After all, the term “downtown” is symbolic of heavy activity over a sizable area. It exemplifies a flurry of commercial and retail businesses, restaurants, entertainment and other goings-on, all intended to attract people.

Such a scenario, however, has never been Summerlin –– that is, until now. When you meld all those elements of a downtown and throw a state-of-the-art baseball stadium into the equation, you have a picture of the kind of excitement going on in the “war room” of The Howard Hughes Corp.

Architects, engineers and planners are busily designing a downtown for Summerlin that will spread over more than 300 acres. It’s adjacent to the Las Vegas Beltway and just southeast of Red Rock Resort.

In essence, they’re bringing a touch of urbanism to Summerlin.

“I love to listen to the urban planners who sit in the war room. They are so lit up,” commented Tom Warden, senior vice president of community and government relations for Hughes Corp.

Warden certainly knows what’s going on in that war room. He’s been an integral part of Hughes Corp. and its predecessor for 14 years.

“How often do urban planners have the opportunity to create a downtown that people want to live in, one that caters to the way we live today, which is different from the way we lived 20 or 30 years ago?” Warden asked.

Indeed, 20 or 30 years ago, downtown in many cities was identified with the inner core of those cities, the kinds of places people often looked to flee from and into the suburbs. It was those very situations that gave rise to Summerlin and other suburbs. But times change, and so do conditions. What they’re planning for Summerlin represents a whole new twist.

“These urbanists are now going to build a downtown from scratch,” Warden explained. “There’s no condemnation costs, no bureaucratic wrangling over tearing down stuff.

“Urban planners are used to dealing with something that’s maybe 70 or 80 acres, maybe involving the redevelopment of some blighted You never hear them talk about just starting from scratch on some totally undeveloped site and having the opportunity to build a downtown. In this case, it’s in the middle of the most beautiful community in Nevada.

“That’s rarified stuff,” Warden added, shaking his head.

He showed renderings of how the undeveloped property will look once it becomes downtown Summerlin. It will include a major retail mall of approximately 140 stores, anchored by Macy’s and Dillard’s, on 106 acres.

The other 200 acres, contiguous to the mall site, will consist of a variety of restaurants, entertainment and commercial facilities, surrounded by townhouses and pedestrian walkways, all in a park-like setting.

Within that hub would be a baseball stadium for the Las Vegas 51s, with estimated seating for 9,000. I had the opportunity to look out at the undeveloped expanse from the Hughes Corp. war room.

“That’s where we hope to put the stadium,” Warden said, pointing to an area of untouched land. The Hughes Corp. said it will donate the estimated 20 acres needed for the stadium and related parking. Warden placed a value of $40 million on the site.

The 51s baseball team was recently purchased by a consortium consisting of Hughes Corp., which owns half of the franchise, and a group of investors led by Steve Mack, a retired Summerlin businessman, which owns the other half.

The new owners want to move the team from the antiquated Cashman Field to the Summerlin site and are seeking $65 million in public financing to build the stadium.

Referring to their request, Warden asked, “If you were going to place a bet using public money to put a project in a particular location, could you think of a better bet?”

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His newest novel, “All For Nothing,” is now available. Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.

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