Can ‘Downtown Summerlin’ Bring Urban Living to the ‘Burbs?

A prominent retail rebirth shows that the Valley hasn’t lost its pre-recession appetite

Photo Courtesy of Business wire

Photo Courtesy of Business wire

Maybe it’s the promise of excessive retail spending that sends a little adrenaline through our recession-rusty veins. Or maybe it’s just the sight of so many cranes and hard hats and newly planted, totally unnecessary palm trees. Maybe it’s the hubris of calling the mixed-use retail, office and residential development in the far west suburbs “Downtown Summerlin.” Whatever the case may be, the rise of a 1.6-million-square-foot “retail environment” on Sahara Avenue just off Interstate 215 feels like a commercial spring, an economic flowering.

For too long—since 2008, actually—the steel frame of an unfinished building stood south of the Red Rock Resort, reminding passersby that the wildly indulgent, fast-growing, faster-spending Vegas ethos was fallible. Now, not only has construction resumed full-speed, but the marketing has begun. Instead of merely a mall anchored by Macy’s and called Summerlin Centre, developer Howard Hughes Corp. recently got the media talking about “Downtown Summerlin”—a place now promising the live-work-play force of the most talked-about Southern Nevada neighborhood in recent years, Downtown Las Vegas. It’s set to open in October.

The difference, of course, is that nothing about a couple hundred new palm trees decorating Dillards, Michael Kors, Victoria’s Secret, Brighton Collectibles, True Religion and more than 100 other stores suggests an attempt to cultivate “grit” or “authenticity.” Here, more than in Downtown Las Vegas, we see the unapologetic return to intensive consumerism—to the halcyon days of anxiety-free wandering through carefully displayed piles of name-brand goods and stopping for dinner at, say, the planned Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill, or bottle service at the planned ROC Resto-Lounge (a venue that turns from coffee shop to clothing store to cocktail lounge to nightclub with a patio view, depending on the time of day). That’s the ridiculous Vegas we once knew and loved, and here it is, raising its salon-coiffed head in the master-planned suburbs.

We don’t have to like shopping to appreciate the news. We can even perhaps lament that the development—which will feature street-level retail, luxury apartments and a nine-story office building—may suck up more of the view of the Spring Mountains. Still, the very fact that the economy is deemed ready to support 6,000 acres of new-home development and a Trader Joe’s is the kind of news we used to take for granted.

So there’s cause for our adrenaline to be flowing: Finally, we have hot and heavy construction, chutzpah-filled branding, and the promise of cash and credit falling all over each other in search of a better look, a better lunch, a better night out on the town. That’s vital for Las Vegas.