The victor among a crowded slate of candidates seeking to represent Ward 1 on the Las Vegas City Council will likely be tethered to how much the Medical District progresses during their tenure on the dais.
On Monday evening, nine of the 10 office-seekers presented their case to successfully grow the district in front of potential voters during a forum at the SGI-USA Buddhist Center in the McNeil Estates neighborhood.
Asked to address the expansion of the district and connecting the ward with downtown, candidates seemed to agree that neighbors would have a seat at the table as decisions are made, although they they sought to separate themselves from one another ahead of next week’s primary.
For Robert Blakely, a member of the state Board of Education, election to the council would represent a “promotion” and allow him to follow a path he started on the Board of Regents a decade ago, where he said he was involved in bringing the UNLV School of Medicine to the district.
Blakely, 67, doesn’t believe light rail will ever come to the city, although other candidates disagreed, instead saying the future of transportation in the district was more realistically pegged to ride-hailing options such as Lyft and Uber, for which he is a driver.
No skyscrapers on Charleston
The Medical District can create higher-paying jobs than in gaming, the city’s No. 1 industry, according to business owner Drew Dondero, a former gaming executive. And replicating the attractions found downtown like museums, restaurants and theaters that should be a focal point of Ward 1 leaders.
“There are some challenges, none of us wants skyscrapers on Charleston,” Dondero, 51, said, describing restricting growth on the major thoroughfare west of Rancho Drive.
The district is currently bounded by Charleston Boulevard to the south, Martin Luther King Boulevard to the east, Alta Drive to the north and Rancho Drive to the west. But several years ago, a city consultant recommended expanding the border to Valley View Boulevard, according to Robin Munier, a special assistant to Mayor Pro Tem Lois Tarkanian.
Munier, 71, said she has worked in her job with the councilwoman to nix hulking structures on Charleston, saying that she is seeking a “big strategic plan” to grow the district with particular focus on a thriving medical school where internships and fellowships keep peoeple in the ward and the city is cognizant of its spending.
“There’s no way we’re going to be able to put more anything in any of the neighborhoods without reducing some of the fluff that’s in the budget,” she said during an earlier forum this month. “We’re going to have to buckle down.”
Margarita Rebollal, a nonprofit executive director, said she believed that growth of the Medical District should give a residual boost to quality of life, not only obviously in health care, but for neighborhoods through upward mobility.
“Whenever you expand, you are rebuilding neighborhoods and you are giving opportunities to the community members to promote themselves to a higher standard of living,” she said.
‘Smart, conscious growth’
Amy Emanuel, 39, founder of a commercial property management company, said that her familiarity with zoning rules and experience working with developers provides her with an understanding of how expansion impacts neighborhoods as she called for “smart, conscious growth.”
“We need to do a better job at completing our streets,” she added, saying there weren’t enough bus turnouts or bike lanes in the ward.
According to café owner Sherman Ray, 57, improvements needed in infrastructure remain his biggest hesitation in getting too far ahead with plans to double-down on the Medical District even though he fully supports it: “Lay the groundwork first before we start building a bunch of buildings.”
He also said city buses could be rebranded – perhaps, “Vegas Express” – to encourage more people to drive less and ride the bus. As he lauded challengers in the race, he made a point to suggest that he had the qualities of a councilman as opposed to a city employee, “somebody who can write a check, somebody who will take the fall.”
Cheerleading for medicine
Dave Marlon, who ran a substance-abuse recovery center, pointed to three decades in the health care industry as convenient experience in the district.
“The short answer is, I see myself being a cheerleader and reaching out to an MD Anderson or John Hopkins to try to recruit some world-class providers to come to town to set up shop, because we need to elevate the perception of health care in our community,” he said.
But Marlon, 54, also acknowledged that he “can’t fill Lois Tarkanian’s shoes,” displaying a deference toward the councilwoman common among the candidates seeking to replace her.
Jesse “Jake” Holder, a Navy veteran who is self-employed, expressed a particularly optimistic view of the city as-is during two forums this month. On Monday, he said he believed infrastructure that would connect the district to downtown was “very adequate as it is” although he vowed to be open to new proposals.
Holder, 55, described a pragmatic approach to politics, pledging to be “fair” in decision-making, championing affordable housing and encouraging high-tech companies to enter the district “without maybe giving the store away.”
Brian Knudsen, 40, a private sector and nonprofit adviser, said he planned to carry forward a public service legacy started by his father, who was a police officer, and fight for increased children’s health care, including a children’s medical hospital.
As a member of the Regional Transportation Commission’s advisory council, he said there will be a recommendation to the agency for light rail running from McCarran International Airport to downtown to the Medical District, a project that will largely be subsidized by federal dollars and has overwhelming support from the private sector.
Dean Lauer Jr., a former deputy chief in the now-defunct Las Vegas constable’s office, could not be reached for interview Tuesday.
The primary election is April 2. Read the Review-Journal’s voters guide here.