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Ed Koch

Briare was a cheerleader for Las Vegas

13 December 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Former Las Vegas Mayor Bill Briare set the standard for those who would follow in that post - that of a walking billboard for the city.

Briare sang the praises of Las Vegas in Taiwan, Germany, Japan, South America and many other places. His influence helped bring enduring attractions to town, including the National Finals Rodeo and Triple-A baseball.

Tall, handsome and distinguished, "Smiling Bill" even looked mayoral. He would rather cut a ribbon for the opening of a Chinese restaurant than endure the tedium of City Council meetings.

Yet, as mayor from 1975 to 1987, he helped lay a foundation for the infrastructure that would be needed to meet massive population growth.

William "Bill" Briare died Friday of complications from Alzheimer's disease. He also had Parkinson's disease, his family said. He was 76.

Services for the Las Vegas resident of 51 years will be 10 a.m. Friday at St. James Catholic Church. Visitation will be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at Palm Mortuary-Downtown.

"My father's legacy was that he set the model for what mayors of Las Vegas should be," said Jim Briare, one of Briare's six children.

"While mayors of other cities often concentrate on running the day-to-day operations, my father was branding Las Vegas for generations of future tourists who would come here. He wanted the welcome mat to be very large."

Briare despised the term "Sin City" and wrote letters to reporters and editors asking them to stop using that outdated phrase.

He was mayor at a time when growth far outpaced existing infrastructure and U.S. 95 ended outside Briare's office window at City Hall.

In the early 1980s Briare admitted that Las Vegas was at least three years behind in street construction and road repairs and needed more federal dollars to address those problems.

Briare helped secure federal funds for new streets and sidewalks for predominantly black and economically depressed West Las Vegas. He also created an economic development plan and a community development board for that long-neglected part of town.

But the lack of an effective master plan led to criticism that Briare's administration lacked direction to deal with uncontrolled growth.

In the late 1970s Briare offered his concept for a downtown pedestrian mall. Years later the Fremont Street Experience canopy project created just such an open thoroughfare.

A strong supporter of the arts, Briare championed construction of the Charleston Heights Arts Center, which today is important for art exhibits and performances of dance companies.

In 1980 Briare began developing his concept for a superspeed train linking Los Angeles and Las Vegas - a plan that would dominate much of his remaining time in office. But the project never moved beyond the planning stages as Southern California officials could not get excited about sending millions of people - and their dollars - to Las Vegas for the potential of getting far less than a half-million Las Vegans in return.

Among his honors Briare was named B'nai B'rith Man of the Year for 1982 and won the High Speed Rail Association's Outstanding Achievement Award for 1987.

Briare is survived by his wife, Susan; a brother; 19 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.