The Year of Spreading Shadows

2010 was tough all around, but some creative locals see signs of brighter days

Perhaps you’ve heard the news. This was not one of our better years. Statistics sometimes lie, but these ones probably don’t: Fifteen percent of us don’t have jobs. Almost 70 percent of our homes are worth less than we owe on them. According to Brookings Mountain West, our economic output, after plummeting 6 percent during the 2008-09 recession, has increased only 0.8 percent during what some folks still insist on calling a recovery. You want optimism? We’ll give you the parenthetical in the following sentence from a Brookings report: “Las Vegas continues to lose ground (albeit at a slackening pace) on almost every indicator.”

OK, enough of that. If we’re going to make our way out of the slump anytime soon, we’ll need to be creative, energetic and able to envision a harvest in fields that now lie fallow. The great Vegas revival will have to be not only economic but cultural, educational and even psychological. The good news is, we have people around here who are willing to take on the task. We asked an array of Las Vegas leaders, thinkers and creative observers what 2010 meant to them. And—statistics be damned—many of them saw the dawn of better days.

James P. Reza, general manager, Globe Salon and regular Vegas Seven contributor:

Regroup, refocus and rebuild have been downtown buzzwords for years. By force of circumstance, 2010 brought renewed energy to those concepts. While much of the Valley spent 2010 mired in the negative emotional impact of the recession, the downtown community essentially said, Eh, we’ve seen worse, buckling down to gain traction and make progress. The first half of 2010 was about survival for many downtowners, but the developments of the second half arched above expectations with the watershed Zappos announcement, new residential rentals available and many new storefronts scheduled to open in the new year. Downtown 3.0 is under way, and 2010 will be remembered as the year it started.

David G. Schwartz, director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research and Vegas Seven columnist:

For casinos, 2010 was all about adjusting. 2008 was about shock—this is really happening to us?—and 2009 was about survival. This year, debt-restructuring bought the big companies some time, and everyone started focusing on how to make do with more visitors spending less; the Tropicana’s remodel is a good symbol of this. This year is also about casinos getting used to social media: The Cosmopolitan’s John Unwin chatting with us all via Twitter is a bellwether. 

Beverly Mathis, principal, Kermit Booker Sr. Empowerment Elementary School:

In 2010, the Booker family worked tirelessly to make sure the children were accountable—that they completed their homework, attended after-school tutoring, studied and read every evening and applied the skills they were taught. The school’s diligent and tenacious efforts paid off, and Booker was designated as a “high achieving” school by the Nevada Department of Education. I understand that the task at hand is by no means over, and we welcome the challenges that lie ahead. 2010 was a great school year; 2011 will be just as rewarding, if not better. Teamwork makes the dream work!

Alissa Nutting, author and Black Mountain Institute fellow:

2010 was a rich uncle who spoiled literary Las Vegas rotten. Superstars like T.C. Boyle (dashing in a tomato-red suit), Pulitzer-Prize winner Junot Díaz, and MacArthur Fellow Yiyun Li came to read through the Black Mountain Institute; the Vegas Valley Book Festival delighted (Dennis Lehane! Our mayor reading poetry!); the Southern Nevada Literary Arts Council was founded; and the anthologies Dead Neon and The Perpetual Engine of Hope further immortalized Our Good City.

Windom Kimsey, principal, Tate Snyder Kimsey Architects:

I have been doing a lot of thinking about 2010 and how it has changed my somewhat local perspective on design and planning. The economic doldrums are here to stay for a while, and so am I. But why not think global and bring the talent and availability of our local design community to a dynamic economy, much like we used to have here in Las Vegas? I am talking China. We know how to get things done here in Nevada, and I believe there are 1.2 billion people who would like a little of our design know-how. See you in Shanghai in 2011!

Hugh Fogel, owner of Unicahome:

My Las Vegas in 2010 was resilient. The economy, like our desert, was unforgiving in 2010. The world kicked Las Vegas as it tumbled. Yet the Las Vegans I know reconnected with friends and their environs, supporting local businesses and changing downtown Las Vegas when our boomtown politicians and economy could not. Las Vegas was built on the dreams of risk-takers. Together we must continue to dream and continue to renew. Think differently and move forward.

Alexandra Epstein, executive manager, El Cortez:

The El Cortez has seen many changes in downtown Las Vegas in the 70 years since its inception, but I can say without exaggeration that 2010 has been one of the most pivotal years in downtown history—a year of remarkable growth and optimism. From the 40 new tenants at Emergency Arts to new restaurants and bars on Fremont to new residents at The Ogden, Fremont East is brimming with life, and things are only looking up!

David Wrobel, chairman of the UNLV History Department:

Historians generally don’t offer predictions, but I’ll go out on a limb and predict that when, half a century from now, we reflect back on 2010 in the Las Vegas Valley we’ll be struck by the persistence of the place in the face of a truly terrible economic downturn, and perhaps particularly by the persistence and continued innovativeness of UNLV as an institution despite the massive cutbacks that Southern Nevada’s research university has endured. That’s my hope and my prediction.


Matt Jacob, Vegas Seven sports betting columnist:

With few exceptions—18-year-old baseball phenom Bryce Harper getting selected No. 1 overall in Major League Baseball’s draft and signing a record $9.9 million contract; the Las Vegas Locos defending their United Football League championship (not that anyone knew … or cared)—this was a lost year in the local sports world. From the UNLV football team (2-11 season) to the Las Vegas 51s Triple-A baseball team (last-place finish) to our good mayor once again failing to bring a real professional franchise to the Valley, there was little for locals to cheer about in 2010. Unless, of course, you run a sports book, where the cash register sang a sweet tune all year long. It started with the Super Bowl in February, when the New Orleans Saints upset the favored Indianapolis Colts and the game stayed under the total, two results that helped the books clear almost $7 million. Money kept pouring in throughout March Madness and on into this fall, when NFL underdogs barked so loudly they made Michael Vick flinch. Yes, it was another banner year for the house … but this time, they better savor it, because with lockouts looming in both the NFL and NBA, the only more depressing place than a sports book come the fall will be Sam Boyd Stadium on a UNLV game day.

Ari Eberlin, downtown booster:

With the opening of the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, CityCenter and the Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas is now on the architectural, artistic and health-research map. I have seen continued growth for the arts in a grassroots capacity. I have seen an increase in employers that offer nongaming industry careers. 2010 was indeed the welcome mat for what I think will be an incredible decade for Las Vegas. This felt like the year Las Vegas began to embrace its future as a livable city and not just a tourist destination.

Jason Strauss, partner, Tao Group

In 2010 we saw a renewed confidence in hospitality in both Las Vegas and New York. This positive outlook allowed us to open Lavo in New York, a brand we launched in Vegas two years ago. Now, we close out this year and launch 2011 with the premiere of Marquee nightclub and dayclub at the Cosmopolitan, a further demonstration that things are looking up for the city.

David Saxe, producer and owner, Saxe Theater at the Miracle Mile Shops

The economy in 2010 was to blame for many shows closing and half-empty French-Canadian shows scrambling to run locals specials hoping to keep their high prices intact for tourists. Fortunately for me and my shows, it was our best year ever. I opened VEGAS! The Show, the biggest stage production to hit Las Vegas in 20 years, and I purchased another amazing theater. It just goes to show that a terrific product at an affordable price can thrive in any market condition.

Michael Cornthwaite, owner, Downtown Cocktail Room, The Beat, and Emergency Arts:

The past year saw a renewed energy and focus on creating community and culture in the city of Las Vegas. In spite of the difficulties this year, I have really been excited by the current development of the area and the exciting projects that are lined up just around the corner in downtown.

Deborah Heiser and Westley Isbutt, owners, The Arts Factory

This year saw the installation of long-planned projects in the 18-block Arts District—the Sculpture Plaza, the 18b transportation hub and the Arts District Gateway all came on line this year. And this summer, Dennis Oppenheim’s Paintbrushes were unveiled, changing the landscape of the downtown area. Meanwhile, Bar + Bistro at The Arts Factory opened and established weekly cultural events, including Camp107 Fridays and Painters/Poets Saturdays. This tumultuous year revealed people’s true character and motivation, separating those who care about the city from those looking to make a quick buck.

Please share your thoughts on the year in the comments below.

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