Make way for horses

Watch out, Central Park. Downtown Las Vegas will soon be galloping after you.

A downtown reverend and his cowboy business partner got the giddyup on Wednesday to run horse-drawn carriages through scenic downtown Las Vegas.

Now before you wonder about carriages traveling downtown minus an armed guard riding shotgun, hear out the Rev. Stephen Smith, a longtime downtown booster.

Sure, some still think of downtown Las Vegas as home to prostitutes, drug denizens and shootouts.

“I beg to differ,” Smith said. “The historic area of Las Vegas is as beautiful as any part of the Las Vegas Valley.”

The horse carriages would follow set routes in some of those areas, such as 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th streets north of Charleston Boulevard and through portions of the Arts District.

The carriages would not cross heavily traveled streets, such as Charleston, Fremont Street and Fourth Street, city staff said.

Smith said he envisions a booming stable of customers jumping on for round-trip rides that would last 15 to 50 minutes. He said the business would partner with downtown wedding chapels to give romantic rides to newly hitched couples.

Before the plan got unanimous approval from the City Council on Wednesday, there were some issues that had to be dealt with.

There were the obvious questions: The horses would wear “diapers,” Smith said.

He admitted, though, that they aren’t foolproof.

“We could have some spillage,” he said.

Cleanup crews would be on call to pick up any errant equine emissions anywhere on the route within six minutes. They would carry chemical neutralizing agents for urine.

There also were questions of safety.

Smith’s business partner, Robert Humpherys, said he has done these projects in other cities. These are modern carriages with lights, “slow vehicle” signs and even hydraulic brakes, he said.

The teams of horses are well-trained and currently give rides at Floyd Lamb State Park, Humpherys said.

Insurance is lined up and would cover any liability the city of Las Vegas might have. But the companies refuse to insure the carriages if they are equipped with seat belts.

If the horses bolt, Humpherys said, “there would be more problems if you’re not able to leap free.”

The horses would be kept off the roads during morning and evening rush hours to prevent them from clogging up the side streets.

That led to questions about the treatment of the horses.

They can’t work when temperatures hit 90 degrees, so don’t slap on your chaps quite yet. Smith said the operation he’s been working on for 18 months probably won’t start until September.

The horses are protected by municipal rules that would make the Culinary union blush. They can’t work for more than 50 minutes without getting a 10-minute break. They can’t work more than an eight-hour day, or 40 hours a week. Shade and water must be readily available.

Smith, owner and resident of the Downtown Community Church, said he walks four to five miles every day and has a different impression of downtown than its reputation.

“I’ve never had a problem,” he said. “Now maybe if you walked in the wrong parts of downtown you’d have a problem, but you’d have a problem in some parts of any major American city.”

A host of downtown businesses, residents and activists wrote letters or showed up to voice their support for the plan. In particular, members of the Fremont Entertainment District expressed excitement about the business.

Councilman Steve Ross, the resident cowboy on the council, said he saw the horses and carriages at Floyd Lamb recently.

“That’s a sharp operation out there. Folks were lining up. I was so dang impressed,” he said.

He then asked why Smith and Humpherys would not pick people up in one location “and drop them off at a casino so they could get their buffet.”

That business model, Smith said, would make the carriages limousines under state law, and he would need the requisite license from state authorities.

“I don’t think that’s quite possible,” he said.

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