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‘Monumental decision’: Las Vegas mulls vision for urban central park

Las Vegas officials will select one of three finalists to design the city’s next ambitious project: an urban central park across from City Hall.

A City Council decision is expected next month as the city seeks to stay on a tight schedule with plans to break ground in a year. The choice is a significant one that will determine the long-term appearance of downtown’s civic space.

After the finalists made presentations to city lawmakers on Wednesday, Mayor Carolyn Goodman said it would be a “monumental decision.” Councilwoman Olivia Diaz, who represents the district where the project will be, acknowledged feeling “a huge sense of responsibility,” and Councilwoman Victoria Seaman noted the choice is “very hard.”

Will the council choose a desert botanical-inspired campus offered by LGA Architecture?

What about the stylish attraction from Steelman Partners LLP called the “Lumen Center,” which features lighting, mist and video technology displays?

Or perhaps KGA Inc.’s phased project that highlights “civic thread” — the winding connectivity between project areas — and calls for an iconic sculpture of some kind and a large festival space?

“As you all know, that block across the street, we’ve been trying to assemble for a couple of years now,” City Manager Jorge Cervantes told the council. “And really we’re doing it because it’s a critical part of our redevelopment plan for downtown.”

City officials realize that more green space is necessary to continue encouraging residential development downtown. And Cervantes said it makes sense to build it out in a central location surrounded by a government hub and popular destinations such as Fremont Street and the Arts District.

In July, the city purchased a bail bonds property for $2.1 million to finalize its acquisition of the entire block where the project is planned, bounded by Main and First streets and Clark and Bonneville avenues.

The Downtown Civic Center Building and Plaza, which was highlighted in the city’s recent downtown civic space and trails master plan, will also provide additional room for city departments that were temporarily squeezed out of City Hall when the development services center moved in from a different location, according to Cervantes.

It is unclear how much the building and urban plaza will cost, but the city budgeted $47 million for the project in its current fiscal year spending plan.

Cervantes said that council members will be able to ask more questions of the finalists in upcoming briefings over the next 30 days. Councilman Brian Knudsen said he also wanted the community to be involved, but it is not clear how the city plans to engage residents.

Crear ‘not sold’ on city charter school

The city continued inching into the education space on Wednesday, as city lawmakers approved bylaws and nonprofit board members to manage a proposed city-run public charter school.

An application to the charter authority has to be submitted by July 15.

CLV Strong Start Academy Elementary School would open in August 2022 if it is approved and will serve as many as 180 students in kindergarten through second grades, according to a city filing with the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority.

It is believed to be an unprecedented move for a Nevada municipality to seek to run a public charter school, according to Rebecca Feiden, the charter authority’s executive director.

Tammy Malich, the city’s director of youth development and social innovation, told the council Wednesday that the proposed school will serve students with unmet needs, targeting bilingual education and cultural competency. It will also aim to ensure that staff and curriculum reflect the children at the school, she said.

But not all city lawmakers were convinced that it was a good idea for the city to wade into the school business.

“I’m not sold on the whole concept of the city being engaged in running a school,” Councilman Cedric Crear said. “We have so many challenges that we’re faced with. This is a very, very, very uphill battle.”

Particularly he noted that three charter schools within a two-mile radius in his district have struggled since inception, and he raised questions about adequate funding.

Malich said that there were funding opportunities available to the city with federal coronavirus relief dollars that would augment state per-pupil dollars.

She said that the idea for the charter school came from constituents who had been pleased with city-run pre-kindergarten academies and were seeking continuity in education.

According to Malich, the city will seek permission from the council to move forward with the charter school if its charter application is approved.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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