More visions for the new decade

Baseball great Yogi Berra wasn’t kidding when he said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” And yet making predictions seems to be built into our DNA. We can’t help ourselves.

But guessing what will happen in 2010 is too easy. It’s more interesting, I think, to forecast what’s going to occur in Las Vegas over the next 10 years. So, with no further ado …

In general, I predict a fairly sedate decade for Las Vegas. Unlike the fast-growing 1990s and the topsy-turvy 2000s, the next 10 years won’t be the roller coaster that we’ve been riding lately.

Let’s start with an easy one. The real estate market will gradually improve and growth will resume. With its desirable cost of living, climate and job opportunities, Las Vegas remains an attractive place to live and retire. Americans will revive their westward migration from the East Coast and Midwest. Many also will continue to flee the chaos of California.

But the growth won’t be anything like what we experienced in the past. The Las Vegas metropolitan area actually lost population over the past year, according to the state demographer. That brief trend will end soon, but the nation-leading growth rates of the past two decades or so won’t be seen in this one.

The main reason: The casino industry will focus on making the most of its existing resources rather than building more and bigger resorts. In the wake of CityCenter, don’t expect any new resorts to rise in the first half of the decade.

However, as the Great Recession recedes into the mists of history four or five years from now, don’t be surprised when gaming companies unveil architectural renderings for their latest pleasure palaces. Hey, it’s in our DNA.

That said, another reason for moderate industry growth will be continuing gambling legalization across the country. After a decade when the proliferation of gambling in other states actually fueled interest in Las Vegas, the trend will finally catch up with us. The bigger and nicer the casinos become in states such as California and Ohio, the fewer reasons there will be to visit Las Vegas.

While gaming growth will be modest, the new big industry in Las Vegas will be health care. The internationally respected Cleveland Clinic will lead the way toward a more robust industry, fueled in part by the area’s expanding senior population.

The other industry that will have a profound impact in the new decade is solar power. By 2020, and perhaps sooner, desert areas surrounding Las Vegas will be blanketed with solar panels, earning Nevada the distinction as the nation’s solar power capital.

On the transportation front, I have no reason to believe any new forms of mass transit will appear in the valley in the next 10 years. We will continue to expand the bus system, and we likely will continue to operate the financially troubled monorail. But we won’t extend the monorail to the airport or downtown. And we won’t build light rail to the suburbs either.

Beltway construction, which started in 1991, finally will end in 2015 or so. The beltway will be completed but it still won’t live up to its name, because it won’t run through the east side of the valley.

As for a high-speed train to Southern California, I think the odds are against it being up and running by 2020. My prediction won’t be wrong if a train does get built but goes only to Victorville, which doesn’t count.

The biggest political fight of the decade will be over public education. Nevada’s perpetually underfunded school systems will continue to struggle, stunting economic diversification efforts. Bitter fights over funding will be at the forefront of the legislative agenda, with a lack of political will resulting in incremental progress at best. As a result of public education’s backslide, look for a major private college or university to set up shop in Las Vegas, competing with UNLV for faculty and students alike.

A few significant bits of progress will occur in the next decade:

* The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, set to open in 2012, will become a cultural focal point and stimulus. Its success will spur development of the valley’s first major art museum and the opening of the mothballed Nevada State Museum at the Springs Preserve.

* The Fontainebleu resort will be completed and opened. Circus Circus will be mercifully imploded.

* Many gated communities will get rid of their gates as residents realize they are unduly expensive and ineffective.

* Somebody will step forward and build a new water park for local kids.

* The Fremont Street Experience canopy will be dismantled. The scrap metal will be used to build the water park’s rides.

As you can see, my 2020 visions are fairly conservative. I don’t venture out on too many flimsy limbs.

No doubt some fascinating and life-changing things will emerge in the next 10 years that neither I nor anybody else could possibly think of at this time. Let’s hope so.

Geoff Schumacher ( is the Review-Journal’s director of community publications. His column appears Friday.

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