Henderson Hope

The plan announced April 7 for a 171-acre integrated health village in Henderson is a window into the endurance of both hope and hubris in the Las Vegas Valley. David Baker, a California developer who is the managing partner of the proposed $1.5 billion project at U.S. 95 and Galleria Drive, expects it to create 17,000 jobs and generate billions of dollars in tax revenues.

The project, dubbed Union Village, is a residential, commercial, office, entertainment and cultural center. The village would be anchored by a new St. Rose Dominican Hospital, which would replace the old St. Rose de Lima Campus on Lake Mead Drive. It would also include a senior living center, the Henderson Space and Science Center, a performing arts center and “future education research centers.”

That’s all laudable—and perhaps even necessary. But alas, there’s more: The project, which will be a stone’s throw away from the Galleria at Sunset mall, also includes 300,000 square feet of retail space within its first phase. That’s one and a half times more space than The District at Green Valley Ranch, Henderson’s financially struggling mixed-use development.

It’s hard to blame Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen for his enthusiasm for a project that would fill both economic and medical needs in a part of the city that has been hit most severely by the recession. Union Village officials approached the city of Henderson, not vice-versa, and it would seem somehow unsporting for the city to roll its eyes at the project. (Henderson residents will get to hear the pitch firsthand at a City Council public hearing on April 19.)

Nonetheless, it’s hard not to pause at the idea of a major retail facility alongside the Galleria mall and about two minutes away from blocks upon blocks of half-empty shopping centers on Stephanie Street. In addition, the project would be just 13 miles from the 61-acre Symphony Park in downtown Las Vegas, which contains the Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, The Smith Center and Lied Discovery Children’s Museum. The question is whether Union Village can form a symbiotic relationship with Symphony Park or whether the two centers would wind up competing in their bids to become epicenters for so-called “medical tourism.”

The problem with the medical tourism concept—whether in Union Village or Symphony Park—is that, with all due respect to University Medical Center, the University of Nevada Medical School is in Reno. Cutting-edge health care tends to cluster around cutting-edge teaching-and-research hospitals. Given UMC’s financial problems and the draconian budget cuts facing the state, the medical tourism cart may be out in front of a horse that will never arrive.

The announcement of Union Village’s master plan came the day before the Nevada Cancer Institute laid off half of its staff. Nonetheless, Union Village proponents have said that the project comes in the right place at the right time.

The village is expected to take four to eight years to complete, and developers still have a plenty of work ahead to finalize plans and secure funding. Maybe in four to eight years the time really will be right. Those who would like the plan to deliver on its promise can only hope.

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