The Year After the Year of Downtown

In October 2011, city luminaries gathered at the renovated Historic Fifth Street School to declare 2012 The Year of Downtown. They celebrated preservation achievements, such as the school-turned-cultural center; a burgeoning arts scene crowned by the soon-to-open Smith Center for the Performing Arts; and the public-private revitalization partnership between the City and owner Tony Hsieh. Today, looking back at a year that also included the opening of the Mob Museum and the Neon Museum, it’s fair to say that 2012 did not disappoint.

We can only speculate why 2013 has gone unclaimed by any similar civic cause. Surely this must be the year of something. Which neighborhoods have hit bottom and are ready to bounce? What areas are reaching toward a cultural or commercial critical mass? Which ones will at least benefit from some good old-fashioned boosterish wishful thinking? Vegas Seven is here to help.

1. The Year of The Strip. Downtown needed a banner it could wave because it had been down on its luck for so long. Folks were avoiding its blighted fringes—sticking closely to the well-lit Fremont Street Experience, where crowds diluted the population of panhandlers and prostitutes, and the brand of seediness faded from intriguing to mildly disgusting. Sound familiar? As suggested by the Clark County Commission’s recent attempts to curb everything from homeless people’s pets to smut peddling, the National Scenic Byway that is Las Vegas Boulevard needs some TLC—and soon.

2. The Year of Downtown Henderson. Although Tony Hsieh may be getting all the press lately, the renaissance of Downtown Las Vegas got its jump-start from city government. A redevelopment agency facilitates organizing, planning, zoning—the boring nuts-and-bolts stuff that gets the revitalization engine humming. Henderson not only has the necessary offices, but it also has a mayor and city manager (Andy Hafen and Jacob Snow, respectively) who have gone on record with their intentions to give Water Street some love. And it has cultural institutions, both existing and planned, to rival those of Las Vegas. Bonus tip: Call it “Old Henderson” or “Old Town Henderson” to underline its historical cred.

3. The Year of Old Green Valley. That’s right: In Valley years, which have an uncanny temporal resemblance to dog years, part of Green Valley is now officially old. And that’s a good thing, because a neighborhood has to die a little before it can be reborn. The area around East Sunset Road and Green Valley Parkway is ripe to benefit from the growing cultural appetite for mom-and-popness. On the southeast corner of the intersection is Green Valley Plaza—home to Trader Joe’s, Family Music Center, a Jewish deli, a bird shop, a cozy (and independently operated) Ace Hardware store, one of the last few Blockbuster stores in the Valley, and an itty-bitty U.S. Post Office. For three decades, the center has remained improbably vibrant—a tribute to its tenant mix, which has been interesting from the start, and its quietly compelling, human-scale architecture. Just off the northeast corner of the intersection is the pure, already-hit-bottom potential of Green Valley Town Center. One of the most vibrant spots in the Valley in the 1990s, the center is now a ghost town of vacant shopping pads. But the area recently got some good news, both big and small: The big news is that the long-vacant movie theater is scheduled to reopen this year, complete with new stadium seating and cocktail service. The small news is that the heir to the center’s deceased Starbucks outlet is a fun little mom-and-pop called Dip Sticks—and if you poke your nose in there, it smells like the future.

4. The Year of Midtown. Why should Hsieh have all the fun? There has been public-private collaboration in this city before; remember Michael Saltman and Carol Harter teaming up with Clark County on Midtown UNLV? Revive it! The Regional Transportation Commission is getting the ball rolling on its Maryland Parkway renovation, and the Midtown UNLV project description is replete with ideas that reflect current thinking on revitalization (adaptive reuse, campus-community integration, urban infill … ). The area has three major anchors—Sunrise Hospital, Boulevard Mall and UNLV—that are structurally sound and useful to the community. And nothing screams “Redevelop me!” like a district with an organic pedestrian population and funky-but-dilapidated strip malls that once held the city’s best coffee houses and record stores.

5. The Year of Sunrise Manor. What? You haven’t heard of Sunrise Manor? You’re not alone: The northeast Valley is routinely forgotten in discussions of the city’s future. But, sitting in the foothills of Frenchman Mountain, Sunrise Manor has the diversity downtown aspires to, boasting a population that is 49 percent Hispanic, 13 percent African-American and 6 percent Asian. And it’s home to two major Southern Nevada institutions, Nellis Air Force Base and the Las Vegas Temple of the LDS Church. If the township of Sunrise Manor were to incorporate, its population of 189,000 would make it one of the largest cities in Nevada. Yet, the sector has some transportation challenges (see Hollywood Boulevard) and nearly 20,000 homes in foreclosure. The eastside needs a hand lifting itself out of the hole left by the land rush of the 2000s.

6. The Year of Lake Mead. With their sights newly set on diversification, local and state officials are increasingly pondering the outdoors and recreational tourism as a second market to back up the successful one-trick-pony of gaming tourism. Lake Mead is an ideal draw, with its easy access from the Strip, its dearth of out-of-town tourists (especially relative to Red Rock and the Spring Mountains) and its abundant recreational resources. Marine-oriented local businesses in Boulder City and along Lake Mead Boulevard would love nothing more than to see a spike in traffic going by their front doors.

Does your neighborhood need a bounce? Tell us below.