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Beltway gift accelerated Summerlin’s development

Did you know that the Howard Hughes Corp. gave away 520 acres of right-of-way land to Clark County in the late 1990s — at no cost to taxpayers — to be used in the construction of the 215 Beltway?

If you didn’t know about this outright gift to the public interest, then the likelihood is you wouldn’t have known Hughes Corp. also kicked in the cost of excavating the Summerlin sector of the 215, also known as the Clark County Beltway, to reduce traffic-related noise in the neighborhood.

Those revelations were brought to the surface during an interview with Tom Warden, senior vice president of community and government relations in Summerlin for Hughes Corp.

Warden said that the land value, plus excavation costs, resulted in a gift to the county that was valued at “about $135 million at the time,” allowing for beltway construction in the area to begin in 2000.

The next obvious question is, what would that gift be worth at the present time? “At today’s land values, the total — land and excavation — would be close to half a billion dollars,” Warden replied.

Evidently, there were some farsighted individuals involved in making those decisions, because as Warden stated, “The beltway has been a key part of the development of Summerlin.” The stretch of right-of-way land given to the county by Hughes Corp. totals approximately 8 miles in length, from Cheyenne Avenue south to Hualapai Way.

Warden explained that, at the time the gift was given to Clark County, the county was in the midst of acquiring land for the beltway. “Where there was private ownership — as with us — the county was paying for right-of-way.” The 520 acres was part of the 22,500 acres that falls under the purview of Hughes Corp. and its master plan for developing Summerlin.

“We decided to give them the land in order to accelerate development of the beltway. That helped Summerlin, and it helped the taxpayers of Clark County, since the cost of the acreage didn’t have to come out of the pockets of taxpayers,” Warden explained.

“It has paid dividends throughout the development of Summerlin, and especially right now with the regional shopping and commercial center in Downtown Summerlin,” he added. “After we gave away the land, we said to the county that we would like to have some of the beltway depressed,” to minimize traffic noise, “and they told us to go ahead and dig it out. So we spent millions of dollars more to dig out parts of the beltway. But the segment between Charleston Boulevard and Sahara Avenue was not depressed.” It was left at grade level, so you could see the regional center as you drive along the beltway.

Warden said that, as a result of the beltway, Downtown Summerlin is about a 15-minute drive from McCarran International Airport. “Furthermore, the beltway makes it convenient and time-saving for shoppers coming from the north and south.” He added that it will be just as convenient for residents of the 4,000 dwelling units destined for the second phase of Downtown Summerlin — the 200 acres adjacent to the regional center.

High-rise and mid-rise condos, townhouses and brownstones dot the master plan for the second phase, which might also include a baseball stadium for the Las Vegas 51s.

Warden didn’t have to say it, but the same convenience via the beltway would be available to most folks in the valley who attend a 51s baseball game if a stadium is built in Downtown Summerlin.

“If a new baseball stadium happens, we believe Downtown Summerlin would be a great location, but at this point, it is still only a concept,” Warden said.

City officials have been talking to professional soccer interests recently about the use of Cashman Field as a soccer stadium. The city has made no secret of the fact that it would like the 51s to leave so they could redevelop the Cashman complex.

Ironically, half of the 51s franchise is owned by Hughes Corp., which has a lease with the city for Cashman Field that doesn’t expire until seven years from Oct. 1.

So whose turn is it to blink?

— Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His most recent novel, “Double Play,” is now available. Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.

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