June 17, 2015 – Las Vegas Review-Journal, By James Dehaven
The plans are drawn, and the checks have been cut.
The only question left for Las Vegans is if they’ll soon see the Cashman Center complex converted into a drone testing dome, a sprawling campus for green-tech entrepreneurs or a Hispanic cultural center. Or maybe watch a swath of the Arts District repurposed as a “downtown Central Park.”
It’s possible they could see all of that, plus a pair of projects planned in the city’s downtown redevelopment area.
A general view of Cashman Field in Las Vegas during the fourth inning of a Triple-A minor league baseball game between the Las Vegas 51s and Oklahoma City Dodgers Sunday May 24, 2015. Oklahoma City defeated Las Vegas 2-0. (Josh Holmberg/Las Vegas Review Journal)
As of Wednesday, city leaders own the rights to each of those development blueprints, the top six plans handed some $1 million in city-administered redevelopment grants funded through Strong Cities, Strong Communities, a White House urban planning initiative backed by the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration.
Las Vegas, one of only three cities awarded funds under that program, required applicants to offer “innovative perspectives on economic development” before settling on this week’s winners.
At least for now, city leaders aren’t saying which project they plan to build.
Mayor Carolyn Goodman has not ruled out the possibility of moving ahead with all of the development plans. She hasn’t said what that might mean for Cashman, which provided the backdrop for half of the top projects approved for federal funding and probably would not be able to house competing developments.
Build A Better Las Vegas, author of the top Cashman-centered plan, re-imagined the 70-acre site as the Las Vegas Unmanned Aerial and Robotics Resource Center — also known by the unwieldy acronym UARRC.
Its grand prize-winning project would see the home of the Las Vegas 51s transformed into the Nevada nerve center of a burgeoning $82 billion local commercial drone industry, complete with a drone flight testing space under a see-through canopy to be erected 18 stories above the baseball diamond.
“We really started a business because of this whole thing,” group co-founder Zach Conine told council members after accepting a $500,000 federal grant to get the project off the ground. “We realized this (project) could work anywhere, but what made Las Vegas perfect is there’s a massive amount of state support, with Creech and Nellis (Air Force bases) just up the road.”
Conine projects his drone dome would create more than 7,100 jobs and generate around $14.2 billion in “economic impact” in Southern Nevada.
San Francisco-based architecture firm Gensler &Associates, another Cashman redevelopment suitor, has drawn up blueprints to transform the complex into a “pioneering center for sustainability” with office space for businesses that support expanding green industries. The firm won $50,000 for that third-place proposal.
Villa Latina Plaza, a planned Hispanic multi-cultural center at Cashman, won a fourth-place prize of $50,000.
Las Vegas architect Eric Strain, one-half of a Las Vegas team handed $100,000 for its second-place proposal, submitted blueprints to anchor the Arts District around a proposed modern art museum near Charleston Boulevard and Main Street, part of a project Strain hopes to surround with a downtown central park to unite neighborhoods and host First Friday events.
The city has shown interest in moving that same museum to an as-yet-unnamed parcel in Symphony Park, the 61-acre former railroad yard that serves as home to the nonprofit Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
Strain said the museum’s board is leaning toward moving into the park, but said such a move wouldn’t kill his project’s overall vision for downtown.
City officials haven’t said when they’ll decide which grant-funded plans will come off the drawing board.
Deputy City Manager Scott Adams reported that city leaders have not ruled out the possibility of using the redevelopment process, including tax tools, to help get those projects off the ground.
Jay Williams, U.S. assistant secretary of commerce for economic development, promised further federal grant resources would also be made available to aid that process.
Editor’s note: This article was published online to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Wednesday, June 17, and updated Thursday, June 18.
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