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First Friday fiasco: Attendees’ cars towed

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, rarely one to mince words, summarized the fragility of downtown’s economic rebirth during a recent discussion of an (apparently stillborn) plan to place a sports arena near Main Street and Charleston Boulevard.

“First Friday is great,” he said, criticizing Arts District business owners as short-sighted for panning the stadium plan. “But the other 29 days of the month? It’s a ghost town down there.”

The mayor exaggerates somewhat. But the evening crowds that gather to hear live music and stroll the open art galleries and antique stores on First Friday — the first Friday night of each month — is indeed a hopeful sign of downtown revival.

Which makes it all the harder to understand the financial costs and bureaucratic hoops the city makes local gallery owners jump through, every month, just to make the festival happen. Is there anything else the city could do to kill off First Friday?

Apparently, yes. More than 100 drivers who had parked in a pair of vacant lots near the festival site — vacant lots they say they’ve used before — grew into an angry mob at the nearby “Tow Guys” storage yard when they were told they would need $305 cash, each, to get back cars that were towed while they attended First Friday on the evening of May 6.

There’s nothing the city can do, says municipal spokesman Jace Radke, because the vacant lots, off Imperial Avenue at Main Street and Casino Center Boulevard, are privately owned. State law allows property owners to hire tow companies to remove illegally parked vehicles as long as “a sign is displayed in plain view declaring parking to be prohibited,” Mr. Radke says.

“There were no signs in the lot, none at all,” responds motorist Neil Gilfillan of the lot.

Las Vegas police spokesman Jay Rivera said officers’ hands are tied. Vehicle owners could go to small claims court and argue the no-parking signs weren’t in “plain view,” as the law requires. “The fact that 50 people didn’t see the signs indicates that they didn’t ignore them,” Mr. Rivera said.

Yes, property rights are important. “No trespassing” signs should be honored — if there really were any in sight.

But are our city officials on the side of the local residents and business owners who struggle to keep First Friday going as an article of faith and civic good will — or is it more important to keep happy their unionized meter maids and the folks who pony up big sums for tow-truck licenses?

Has the city considered attempting to rent lots — these or others — for one evening a month, throwing them open to free public parking, while indemnifying the owners against potential damages? Nah. Far easier to wash their hands of the matter — and kiss First Friday goodbye.

Let the customers drive a few miles south, to Town Square, in the 6000 block of South Las Vegas Boulevard, in the unincorporated county — where parking is free, and no one gets towed.

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