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Officials say Union Park will change face of Las Vegas

14 February 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A $6 billion project in downtown Las Vegas that includes everything from 50-story towers to storefront shops is key to reviving the city's struggling core, planners and city officials said Tuesday.

Union Park, a proposed 61-acre development on city-owned property east of Interstate 15, will not only breathe life into the now-vacant property it will occupy, but could also help restore luster to the stagnant Fremont Street casino district, they said.

It is also expected to give more depth to the city's culture and economy by including a $250 million performing arts center and a medical research center focused on the study and treatment of Alzheimer's, Huntington's, Parkinson's and Lou Gehrig's diseases.

The downtown discussion attracted about 100 people to Celebrity Nightclub, 201 N. Third St., and included a progress report on Union Park.

"This is going to change the face of Las Vegas and the way we think of ourselves," Mayor Oscar Goodman said.

The project could eventually support as many full-time workers as there are now employed in Fremont Street-area casinos, about 11,000.

Union Park is expected to be developed between now and 2012. So far, the city, which owns the land and is helping to market the development concept, has commitments from Lou Ruvo Brain Institute, which broke ground last month; the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, which is in the midst of an 18-month effort to raise $120 million; and the proposed World Jewelry Center.

Planners said they expect to begin building residential and retail projects in Union Park in 2008, add hotels, office projects and more medical developments through 2009 and complete the site on pace with demand for real estate there by 2012.

Scott Adams, the city's business services director, said the project's success will depend on the city providing incentives that lower the monetary risk for businesses to move in and create a self-sustaining economic model.

"That is kind of the art of redevelopment," Adams said. "Right now, everyone views the area as a risk. As time goes on it becomes less and less risky."

Eventually, if the project goes according to plan, Union Park will not only sustain itself but also boost the downtown casino district along Fremont Street, Adams said.

The gambling win for the downtown casinos, which has been flat or falling since 1996, fell 3.6 percent in 2006.

"Our goal is to get enough going downtown to have a ripple effect back to that core," Adams said.

Rita Brandin and Charles Kubat of Newland Communities, the company marketing and managing design for the site with the city, described in general the four distinct but overlapping districts that will make up Union Park when it is complete.

The brain institute will anchor a medical district centered along West Clark Street. A 2-acre park called Symphony Park will be a centerpiece in the second district, which will include the performing arts center, Kubat said.

Another district will include about six to eight blocks of high-density housing that will vary from walk-ups to high rises, he said. The fourth district will include hotel and casino developments, the proposed World Jewelry Center, office space and potential connection to the Fremont Street casino district.

City Parkway will carry the bulk of the vehicle traffic in Union Park and a parallel street, Union Park Promenade, will serve as what Kubat called a "traditional main street," with pedestrian traffic and housing over retail shops.

Development protocol for the 61 acres will call for public art throughout the area and buildings that use energy and natural resources efficiently, he said.

"We create a whole that is greater than any one of the individual parts," Kubat said.