Demolition portends ‘new life’

In 1976, Ann Meyers came to town for a two-day trip and caught the Las Vegas bug.

A few months later she bought the Queen of Hearts hotel-casino downtown. She operated it for more than two decades before selling the property, and some adjacent ones, in 2004.

But she didn’t have any mixed feelings Tuesday as she watched a machine claw rip into her former life’s work, tearing it down to make way for a new Las Vegas city hall.

"How wonderful," Meyers said. "It’s a new life. It’s time for this thing to be torn down.

"I’m happy that it’s going to be a new building and a new look and a fresh feel for the downtown."

That was the song people were singing Tuesday, especially Mayor Oscar Goodman, who has led the effort for a new city hall with the belief that it will help set off a new wave of redevelopment downtown.

There was already plenty of construction going on in the area before Tuesday’s ceremony at the Queen of Hearts site at Main Street and Lewis Avenue. Main Street is undergoing roadwork, and just to the west the frame of the Smith Center for the Performing Arts is taking shape.

To the south, at Lewis and Bonneville Avenue, the Regional Transportation Commission is building a new transit station. And once the new city hall is completed in two years, the developer, Forest City, has plans for office towers on adjacent parcels as well as a promise to build a new hotel-casino in Symphony Park, where the performing arts center will be.

"All of these things are transporting Las Vegas to a new height, places we have never been before," Goodman said. "This building will last for ages."

That will hold true for at least 20 years, hopefully, since that’s the time period that the 298,600-square-foot, eight-story building is expected to meet the city’s needs. There is room on the Queen of Hearts block for expansion.

Forest City’s general contractor, Whiting-Turner, expects to hire 800 workers for the project. Boosters also expect big job gains when the entire set of projects is complete. For the five-block area including city hall, the transit center and the new office and retail space planned, 5,000 new jobs are projected.

The really ambitious number — 13,000 projected new jobs — includes the reopening of the Lady Luck, the new casino in Symphony Park and redeveloping the current city hall site into a mixed sports arena, entertainment district and hotel-casino.

That may be hard to see now, acknowledged Dmitri Vazelakis, president of West Coast development for Forest City. Office and commercial space is vacant across the valley, unemployment has soared and financing for any new project is hard to come by.

That’s cyclical, he said. Plus, the new city hall and adjacent projects will bring people to a part of downtown that previously had little to offer — these blocks had either closed or poorly maintained buildings, or were vacant.

"You’ve got to look at it over time," Vazelakis said. "During the course of the development, it will be able to bring jobs in."

Another old hotel on the block, the Apache Motel, was torn down before Tuesday. The neon signs from the Apache and the Queen of Hearts have been donated to the Neon Museum.

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