A new master plan for downtown Las Vegas, which has often played second fiddle to the famous Strip, envisions a denser core with more live-work space served by better public transportation, reports the Las Vegas Sun.
The plan, unveiled Tuesday, is aimed at improving mobility, economic opportunity and aesthetics. To do so, it emphasizes the need to plan for development around potential future transit stations proposed by the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada in their own 30-year plan, released last year. That plan includes a proposal for a light-rail system that would connect the Strip, downtown and McCarran International Airport, alleviating current traffic congestion and ensuring Las Vegas remains attractive to businesses and especially to the conventions that are the city’s bread and butter. Light rail hasn’t yet been approved or funded, but concentrating investments near those proposed hubs is a cornerstone of the downtown plan.
“As that light rail comes in and we improve some of our other transit infrastructure, then we create these ripple effects that move out from the hubs and fill up the districts,” Robert Summerfield, who leads the city’s long-range-planning, told the Sun.
Las Vegas’ airport traffic is on its way toward pre-recession levels, meaning an average of 1.8 million people per month are moving between the Strip and the airport — by car. Earlier this year, a Sun writer worried that without a modern transit system, Las Vegas will lose convention contracts to cities like Orlando that are working to connect their downtowns to their airports. Tourism and convention tax revenue and fees are Nevada’s largest economic drivers, but the Sun writer also worried that the tech industry won’t expand in Las Vegas or the state without convenient mass transit.
Tourism leaders who met to discuss the transportation proposal in January were wary of the high cost of light rail or an expanded monorail system. Depending on whether the system is built above, at or below grade, light rail is estimated to cost between $7 million and $12 billion, just for planning and design. All together, the transit proposals are projected to have a total economic impact of $56 billion to $178 billion, and to create as many as 122,000 jobs.
The downtown master plan also calls for an increase in office and residential development, and the amenities to serve them, like small-scale grocery stores. It was developed with input from more than 100 stakeholders, as well as from five public engagement sessions that drew more than 2,400 residents total.
If its proposal becomes a reality, “you’re going to see a downtown that is as vibrant and has the same urban amenities that you would imagine you’d see in a Portland, Seattle, San Francisco — even certain neighborhoods of New York,” says Summerfield.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.