Signs of Life Amid the Shutdown

As the nonsense in D.C. continues, Las Vegas sees (some) reasons for hope

Photo by Ryan Olbrysh

Photo by Ryan Olbrysh

Sheriff Doug Gillespie’s body language said a lot. He was sitting, in uniform, at the Clark County Commission meeting, sunk down in his chair, slumped over, hand on his forehead. Miserable. A proposal to pay for more cops was failing in front of him—commissioners voted against increasing the sales tax that would’ve paid for the extra officers. The expression on the sheriff’s face, though, was not only a look of defeat. It was a look of disgust, of amazement, of frustration. Really?

It’s the same look much of the nation has had since Congress decided to shut down parts of the federal government. Really? Campers and part-time residents at Lake Mead National Recreation Area were sent packing. Boaters were beached. Everyone was kicked out. Same thing at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area—a scenic wonder once thought to belong to Earth, not Congress. Hundreds of tourists were turned away, right as the weather became bearable, right as the state’s shaky outdoor tourism pitch, “Don’t Fence Me In”—or, well, out—needed a boost.

There were other odd closures around town, too. The mysterious Las Vegas Zoo, a tiny place covered in free-roaming chickens and peacocks, a tightly caged tiger and a very misplaced alligator—a place that had, in its three decades of operation, routinely drawn the ire of animal activists—was finally closing. The animals are still being trucked to various zoos or animal refuges, and the images of them on TV evoke another sad shake of our heads. Unbelievable. It was a long time coming.

Amid all the closures, though, signs of revival started popping up: The old Clark County Courthouse on Third Street, vacant since it was abandoned in 2005, was purchased at auction by Derek Stevens, owner of The D casino. Yes, it’s likely that the walls that heard decades of juicy courthouse stories will be demolished. But in Las Vegas, the demolish-and-build cycle is a sign of prosperity. So, too, is the multimillion-dollar facelift, which is taking place around the corner from the courthouse at the Downtown Grand, where a $100 million remodel of the Lady Luck casino is set to be finished by November.

Even the ’burbs are getting in on the rival action: Work has resumed at the site of the Howard Hughes Corp.’s Summerlin Centre shopping and village project, where the economy halted construction in 2008, leaving a steel frame as a stark symbol of the times. At Summerlin Centre, engineers are back in their hard hats; new structures are beginning to rise.

And even against the backdrop of inane federal politics, one member of the Nevada delegation made a political move that seemed open, even inspiring: Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., announced that during the shutdown he would donate his entire salary to local charities, and has begun doing so.

Unfortunately for Gillespie, none of those local charities redistribute funds that can be used to hire more cops. And so the sheriff is hanging up his hat, having decided not to seek re-election next year. But wait, might there be a parting gift? It seems after the first proposal failed, Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins quickly introduced a new measure that would indeed increase the sales tax to fund more police officers. So there’s a chance Gillespie’s look of exasperation could change to one of elation.

If only our representatives in D.C. would do something to inspire a similar mood shift among the masses.