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Las Vegas City Council will hear testimony on redevelopment zone proposal

Yiorgo Aretos has rebuilt his business twice in the past 10 years, once following a devastating fire in 2003 and again in response to the Great Recession.

Now the owner of Sonio’s Cafe in Las Vegas hopes a proposed new redevelopment zone can do the same for his neighborhood west of Interstate 15 and south of U.S. Highway 95.

Aretos and other backers say redevelopment can help revive an area marked by crumbling commercial corridors, busted block walls and fading facades, much as it has downtown.

"The idea is to clean up this area of town," said Aretos, who operates his bustling restaurant on the northwest corner of Charleston and Valley View boulevards. "It really started taking a downward spiral a few years before" the recession.

Critics say the creation of a new redevelopment zone, which essentially allows the city to capture tax money generated by increasing property values and reinvest it in the designated area, would divert money from more worthy purposes for the City Council to dole out to real estate speculators.

"Over the long haul it winds up just being kind of a money grab for the City Council," said Geoff Lawrence, an analyst for the conservative Nevada Policy Research Institute. "Over a 30-year lifetime you are going to have fewer real resources going into the other taxing districts."

The council is scheduled to hold a public hearing at 1 p.m. Wednesday in City Hall to take testimony on the proposed redevelopment zone.

As proposed in city documents, the zone would cover three distinct corridors: Sahara Avenue from I-15 to Decatur Boulevard, Charleston Boulevard from Rancho Drive to Rainbow Boulevard and Decatur Boulevard from Sahara to U.S. 95.

The areas were selected because properties inside the boundaries meet standards for deterioration and blight and have lagged behind the rest of the city in economic development.

According to a survey of the proposed redevelopment zone, 66 percent of the 704 commercial parcels in the area showed some degree of blight, from visible deferred maintenance to buildings with demolished foundations and thoroughly overgrown property.

If the council approves creating the redevelopment area, it would establish current property values as a baseline and divert taxes on future increases to the redevelopment agency, which can spend the money on projects in the area.

The redevelopment area would have a lifespan of 30 years and, according to estimates from the city, could generate anywhere from $14 million to $112 million in money to reinvest, based on projections property values could rise from 0.5 percent to 3 percent.

The money can be used to back bonds, support matching grants for facade improvements or create other incentives to development.

A 2009 report on the city’s original redevelopment zone downtown, created in 1986, shows that $166 million diverted back into the area was used to assist developments worth about $1.6 billion.

The redevelopment zone is credited with encouraging development of the Las Vegas Premium Outlets, World Market Center, the Smith Center, the new City Hall and other projects downtown.

It also has faced criticism for controversial decisions. In 2004, the agency was forced to pay $4.5 million to the Pappas family after an 11-year legal battle over the redevelopment agency’s taking of the family’s property to construct the Fremont Street Experience parking garage.

More recently, the agency and the council were criticized for approving millions of dollars in redevelopment agency money to subsidize a proposed affordable housing project proposed by former Councilman Michael McDonald, who has no professional building experience.

Plans for the proposed new redevelopment area don’t include anything nearly as ambitious as what has been done downtown, at least not yet.

In fact, the report to the council describing the proposed area says "no specific projects are currently envisioned."

Aretos and other business owners have said they would like to see signs identifying the Charleston Historical District as a distinctive area. Others have suggested making the community more walkable by improving sidewalks and connections between neighborhoods and places such as the mall, and still others hope to see businesses get matching grants to upgrade their facades.

"It can help with a sign grant or facade improvement; they can help you find property if you are wanting to build a certain project," Planning Commissioner Trinity Schlottman said in June when the commission voted unanimously in favor of advancing the proposal to the City Council.

Aretos said even small things like better signs and spiffier storefronts could make a big difference in the area, which is already home to the Springs Preserve, Meadows mall and many established small businesses and residential neighborhoods.

"I think that is what you need in this area, you just need a shock," he said. "This is still a great part of town."

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.

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