Tuesday, December 03, 2002

EVERYTHING'S WAITING FOR YOU ... This afternoon, the mayor of our fair city, Oscar Goodman (the former mob lawyer who played himself in Martin Scorsese's Casino), will light a knockoff of the famous "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign. (As my friend and colleague Steve Sebelius notes, the old sign is on the south end of the Strip, all of which is outside the city limits, so even after you drive north past the landmark, you're still not in Las Vegas, you're in Clark County. Oh well.)


The new version, "Welcome to Fabulous Downtown Las Vegas," will be located downtown, of course, and it marks about the bazillionth attempt at downtown boosterism on Goodman's watch. At least this one's relatively harmless, and is unlikely to ding local taxpayers that much.


Since coming to office in 1999, saving downtown has been Goodman's quixotic quest. He's had no shortage of ideas: Build an arena for an NBA or NHL team; a stadium for a Major League Baseball franchise; a carbon copy of the upscale residential/commercial development in Arlington, Texas (the city had even entered into negotiations with one of Arlington's developers); a furniture mart to supplant the one in High Point, N.C. (hey! that's hitting close to home); the barely open and already sinking toward bankruptcy "Neonopolis" retail/entertainment establishment; a French Quarter-style region lined with taverns and night clubs (but only if the establishments serving alcohol are at least 1,500 feet apart); a state-of-the-art medical research campus ... everything but, say, a modern megaresort, which actually might generate some serious commercial traffic, not to mention residential migration from the suburbs to downtown.


Goodman's heart is in the right place, and lord knows, his desire to succeed is genuine. But the downtown casino owners have the local pols in their hip pockets and are able to block anything which threatens their tiny fiefdoms. (My buddy Vin Suprynowicz made this point painfully well. Anyone who believes Vegas is a freewheeling place knows nothing of the tyranny of central planning.)


Make no mistake: Downtown Las Vegas is ugly, consisting of two decent casinos (the Golden Nugget and Main Street Station), a cluster of seedy gambling halls, tourist-trap gift shops and topless joints, homeless people, and not much else. Not even the "state-of-the-art" -- circa 1972 -- light show at the Fremont Street Experience can overcome the bedraggled atmosphere there.


Goodman and the other downtown cheerleaders can never be convinced that yuppies won't leap at the chance to invest a quarter-million bucks on faux Victorian brownstones in some downtown New Urbanist enclave. Until they'll no longer have to trip over vagrants on the way to their garages or be greeted each morning by the wafting aromas of beer and urine when they pick up their Review-Journals from the stoop, upscale Las Vegans will gladly remain in Summerlin, Green Valley and the Northwest, thank you very much.


But at least you can still get a shrimp cocktail for 99 cents at the Golden Gate.

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