Fresh ideas flow to start Water Street resurgence

City Manager Jacob Snow still sees much potential in downtown Henderson, despite failed attempts to re­vitalize the area over the years.

He is not alone.

Dozens of people recently participated in a workshop led by Tate Snyder Kimsey architects to brainstorm ideas for redeveloping the downtown area, specifically the Water Street District.

“It may not be the central business district of Henderson, but it will be the heart of the city,” Snow said during a recent interview in his City Hall office.

Windom Kimsey, president and CEO of Tate Snyder Kimsey, shared re­commendations from the workshop with the City Council at its Aug. 6 meeting. Ideas included establishing a gateway at the Lake Mead Parkway intersection, developing anchors to attract more visitors and strengthening public transportation.

The Henderson firm has donated its time and resources in hopes of participating in future redevelopment efforts on Water Street, said its marketing director, Jane Michael.

Kimsey told the council that downtown Henderson represents a “wonderful opportunity.”

“It can be something very different than downtown Las Vegas,” he said, then added, “We don’t necessarily need Tony Hsieh to make it happen.”

Hsieh, CEO of the online clothing store Zappos.com, is spearheading the transformation of downtown Las Vegas and has pumped hundreds of millions of his own dollars into the effort. He also is relocating the Zappos headquarters from the Green Valley area of Henderson to the old Las Vegas City Hall building.

After the presentation, Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen remarked, “I feel like we’re getting some momentum going here.”

Hafen urged those within earshot to keep the ball rolling.

“Let’s make sure that we follow through with this,” the mayor said.

Councilman John Marz echoed that sentiment. He also lamented the fact that downtown Henderson has been plagued by turnover and said the city needs to find companies with “staying power” that are willing to move to downtown Henderson.

“We need to go out and find somebody who has some vision and some deep pockets,” Marz said.

Snow told the council his calendar already is filled with meetings involving prospective developers for Water Street.

One name often mentioned in the context of downtown Henderson redevelopment is Tim Brooks, chairman-elect of the Henderson Chamber of Commerce.

Brooks and his brother opened the Emerald Island Casino on Market Street in downtown Henderson in 2003. Earlier this year, they partnered with another man to purchase the Pinnacle Building for $510,000 from the city’s Redevelopment Agency.

The new owners plan to renovate the Water Street building and open an urban lounge on the first floor, which has sat vacant for more than three years.

City officials said the urban lounge planned for the Pinnacle Building would be the first of up to five in the area.

“We’re looking to bring some nightlife to Water Street,” Snow said.

The city manager, who was appointed in April 2012, said he became a fan of the area in recent years as he saw improvements made to the streetscape.

Water Street was reconfigured through a series of construction projects that ended in the fall of 2011. The projects added extensive landscaping, specialized lighting and a sound system along the corridor. In addition, the roadway was narrowed to make room for wider sidewalks.

“It really is one of the few streets in Southern Nevada that has a genuine downtown feel to it,” Snow said.

Snow and his wife, Cheryl, once had plans to live on Water Street.

In fact, in February 2011 they paid $55,000 cash for a parcel at 314 Water St. They wanted to build a home on the property, and Cheryl Snow had an idea for a personal development business she could operate there.

But the couple lost their $400,000 loan after an appraiser visited the property on the south end of Water Street and determined it was in a blighted area.

In addition, Snow’s new job as city manager made him executive director of the Henderson Redevelopment Agency, suddenly turning his ownership of land in the Downtown Redevelopment Area into a conflict of interest.

The city bought the land back at the price the Snows paid for it.

Larger projects on Water Street also have failed.

A year ago, the Henderson City Council, sitting as the Redevelopment Agency, terminated its agreement with the developer of the City Tower project.

The move signaled the demise of the $90 million, mixed-use development once planned for the 2.2-acre site at the southeast corner of Lake Mead Parkway and Water Street. The site, long billed as “the gateway to the new downtown,” has sat vacant since 2007.

Rick Smith, immediate past chairman of the Henderson Chamber of Commerce, participated in the recent redevelopment workshop and said the improving economy makes this “a great time for Henderson to turn its attention back to its original central business district.”

Smith said Southern Nevada has only two “original downtowns” that have opportunities for redevelopment: the one in Las Vegas and the one in Henderson.

While Fremont Street operates 24 hours a day as a “party zone,” Smith said, Water Street offers developers a chance to create something different: a safe, historic, family-friendly environment for visitors.

“It’s going to start with some new eating establishments,” he said.

During the late 1990s, Smith led commercial development as vice president of American Nevada Co., developer of the master-planned community known as Green Valley. He is now president and CEO of RDS Properties, a Southern Nevada commercial real estate firm.

Recent talk about downtown redevelopment has focused on the Henderson Convention Center, which Smith called “inadequate and functionally obsolete.”

One idea involves tearing down the structure, which sits next to City Hall, and building a new convention center that includes hospitality.

“I can tell you that there are hotels that already have expressed interest in that area,” Smith said.

He said the Water Street District, which stretches from Ocean Avenue on the south to Lake Mead Parkway on the north, has the foundation it needs to begin redevelopment: infrastructure, buildings and merchants.

Beyond that it has history, little crime and a City Hall that employs hundreds of people.

With the addition of vision, commitment and enthusiasm, Smith said, “I think you’re going to see quite a different Water Street over the next year or two years, and that will be only the beginning.”

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710.

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