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Jennifer Robison

Changing Chinatown

16 May 2005

Officials of a company looking to build a big condominium-retail project in Las Vegas' Chinatown district want the Clark County Commission to consider changing land use in the area to allow for gaming and high-density residential.

Spring Mountain Wynn Investments is planning to build Dragon City Hotel & Resort, a 17-story, 2,500-unit condominium-hotel complex with about 300,000 square feet of retail, on about 20 acres near Spring Mountain and Wynn roads. The project is at the heart of a district undergoing land-use reviews at the county.

"People are always fascinated by Chinatowns in large cities," said Susan Hunt-Krygiell, a managing member of Spring Mountain Wynn Investments. "We want to help create a place where they could experience the restaurants, the shops, the entertainment and the overall feel of Chinatown."

Doing so, however, will require boosting tourism to the area -- a feat that Hunt-Krygiell said will be difficult without a change in zoning.

The Clark County Comprehensive Planning Department is in the midst of a series of open houses and town-hall meetings to gather public comments on land use in the Winchester and Paradise townships.

The unincorporated areas are bordered by Sahara Avenue and Silverado Ranch Boulevard to the north and south, and Decatur and Nellis boulevards to the west and east. Las Vegas' Chinatown, which runs along Spring Mountain Road between Valley View and Decatur boulevards, is at the area's core.

At the most recent open house, held Thursday at the Harbor Palace restaurant at 4275 Sprint Mountain Road, principal planner Walter Cairns noted that much of Chinatown and the neighborhoods surrounding it are zoned for light-industrial uses.

But Cairns said land values in the area have increased enough to warrant an upgrade in land use to a commercial-general use, which would promote higher architectural standards and retail uses.

Dragon City's developers would like the county to go one step further and declare Chinatown a commercial-tourism zone.

Cairns said commercial-tourism zoning allows two uses that are prohibited under commercial-general uses: High-density residential of 50 units per acre and gaming.

Hunt-Krygiell said that Dragon City officials don't plan to pursue a gaming component "at this time."

But Cairns said, "I'm hearing they want gaming. I asked the question of them, and they said they wanted gaming."

Andrew Lai, a managing partner in Dragon City, said he's met with state and local tourism officials to discuss boosting the number of tourists coming to Las Vegas from Asia.

"We could have 3 (million) to 5 million Chinese tourists coming to Las Vegas in three to five years," Lai said. "More than 50 million Chinese have enough money to come here. China has 1.4 billion people. If just 1 percent of them eventually come here, it would be 14 million visitors."

Hunt-Krygiell said Dragon City would create a significant demand for "services that cater to tourists," so a commercial-tourism designation would "make sense."

"We're going to have more tourism along the (Spring Mountain) corridor because we'll actually have places for them to stay," Hunt-Krygiell said. "It could increase a wider variety of tourism uses."

Cairns said the Dragon City developers' request "needs to be analyzed," but he couldn't predict what action Clark County Commissioners would take when they hold a hearing on the area's land-use plan in August.

Cairns said that he'd likely recommend an overlay district, which superimposes additional zoning requirements on existing land-use plans.

"If you put a commercial-tourist use in, a lot can happen -- it gives (developers) carte blanche," Cairns said. "But an overlay can control what happens" because it establishes parameters a developer would have to meet before the county approved a project.

In addition, Cairns said, the state would need to amend its gaming-district boundaries to include Chinatown before developers could bring slot machines to the area.

One Dragon City neighbor said he isn't sure a Chinatown gaming district is necessary.

Alan Chen, public relations manager of the 90,000-square-foot Chinatown Plaza at 4255 Spring Mountain Road, said he welcomed Dragon City, but he added that gaming wasn't necessary to lure tourists to the corridor.

"New development is always a good thing, especially in this area, where we have a lot of old developments that need a refacing once in a while," Chen said. "But we have a lot of families in this neighborhood. We want to see projects that are respectful to families around here. If kids are stuck in an area full of gambling, it's not going to be great growth for the next generation. A small pub with a little gaming is OK, but we would like to see the big stuff stay on Las Vegas Boulevard, or at The Orleans or the Gold Coast. It's already out there.

"You can always achieve tourism with food and retail. We have no gaming in our shopping center, but we've done very well at bringing in tourists from L.A. and China. We've brought in tourists because we complement the casinos. We don't have to be a casino."

Hunt-Krygiell said Dragon City will break ground in about two years, after executives complete their designs. The motif will feature Asian aesthetic staples such as pagoda-style roof lines, but Hunt-Krygiell said the complex would be "look very contemporary and progressive."

She said the developers haven't established price ranges on the condominiums, which would likely range from 450 to 900 square feet, and which owners could rent out through a management company.