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Streets don’t open on time

Many downtown streets remained closed Monday and a top Vegas Grand Prix official said it was because of failures by his crews.

At the close of the three-day event, officials had promised on Sunday that all of the downtown roads that had been closed for the three-day racing event would reopen in time for the Monday morning rush hour.

"We didn’t get it done," Jim Freudenberg, the Vegas Grand Prix president and chief executive officer, said late Monday afternoon. "It will all be done early this evening if not earlier than that. We fell a little bit short. But it’s being rectified."

Freudenberg said that before crews finished the job Monday night, a city official — whom he wouldn’t name — told them they could go home.

When Freudenberg discovered that major streets, including Grand Central Parkway, were still closed Monday morning, he called his crews. "Once I got a hold of them, and was done ripping them a new one," they went back to work reopening streets, he said.

Parts of Main Street and Grand Central Parkway were still closed to traffic at midday Monday. Earlier in the day, Casino Center Boulevard and Fourth Street, among other streets, were reopened.

Las Vegas City Engineer Jorge Cervantes was far less optimistic than Freudenberg regarding the reopening of all the streets.

Cervantes said that he expects that Bridger Avenue at Casino Center, and Ogden Avenue at Fourth will remain closed today.

"By the end of Wednesday, everything will be opened up," Cervantes said.

Traffic congestion and other problems related to the closures of streets were among one of the major complaints about the event. Some tourists staying at hotels said they didn’t know about the race and wound up trapped by it for hours. Some downtown businesses said access to and from their businesses had been blocked off.

Freudenberg said he got three calls Monday morning from business owners complaining about street closures versus 200 e-mails praising the event.

Mayor Oscar Goodman, who left downtown shortly after he helped start the race Sunday, said Monday that the event was a boon for downtown. "It was a great event for us," he said.

It was also the first year of a five-year contract the event has with the city, though it can be canceled by either the city or the race owners, said City Manager Doug Selby. Freudenberg said that the owners were committed to a long relationship with Las Vegas.

He and others said there would be improvements made next year.

Boyd Gaming spokesman Rob Stillwell said the first-year race was a "learning experience" for downtown hotels.

"Maybe not surrounding Fremont (Street) is the answer," he said. "Maybe an alternative course layout might work better where you’re not cutting off access."

Boyd has an advantage of owning two properties — Main Street Station and the California Hotel — that are outside of this year’s course so guests could check in at those places and have their luggage transported to their hotel rooms.

Parking was a premium. The garage at Main Street Station, usually free, was charging $10. It was the same price for the surface lot at Stewart Avenue and Main Street.

Stillwell said charging everyone but hotel guests for parking is "not out of the ordinary" at large events, though Boyd doesn’t normally charge.

Plaza spokesman Mark Fierro said the overall impression of the race was "very positive" and that hotel executives were "generally pleased" with the energy and number of people downtown. But, he said, "in terms of an immediate uptick, we didn’t get that."

The Plaza was among several downtown hotels that had vacant rooms going into the race weekend .

Mark Brandenburg, owner of the 106-room Golden Gate, said there was a "genuinely festive atmosphere downtown" and he heard nothing but positive and enthusiastic comments from his guests. The Golden Gate set a record for food and beverage sales, led by beverage sales, he said.

"We didn’t see that translate into more gaming business," he said. "This was an enormous logistical undertaking and I think everyone had issues regarding both pedestrian and auto access. With the benefit of experience, I expect we will see considerable improvement in those areas next year."

The city engineer had a similar take.

"There’s a lot of things we noticed out there that we can tweak," Cervantes said. "It’ll only get better in the coming year in terms of traffic circulation."

In the coming weeks, drivers can anticipate lane reductions on many downtown streets to continue over the next two weeks or so, as crews work to remove around 3,000 concrete barriers set up on city streets around the temporary track’s perimeter. Fewer than 100 of the barriers had been removed as of Monday afternoon. Each barrier weighs more than four tons.

"They’re doing most of the (barrier removal) work during the evenings, to stay out of the way of motorists," Cervantes said.

Overall, downtown traffic moved as expected, with the exception of some morning congestion off of U.S. Highway 95 exits at Las Vegas Boulevard and Casino Center Boulevard late last week, as commuters exited the freeway and got caught in street closures, according to Cervantes.

For next year’s race, Cervantes would like to see additional "gates" built into the retaining wall system. There were five such gates this year, which were opened during evening and overnight hours to allow traffic to enter and exit hotels and businesses inside the track’s perimeter.

Cervantes also wants to see more hotel-specific directional signage at the gates and more pedestrian bridges than the four used over the track at this year’s event.

Downtown motorists were aided by police traffic officers who manned a dozen open intersections around the track’s perimeter. Police overtime costs and the number of arrests downtown were not available Monday, police said.


Review-Journal writer Brian Haynes contributed to this report.

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