New vision for North Las Vegas under Choice Neighborhood Initiative

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Mikayla Whitmore

Vacant land is shown near the corner of Carey Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard in North Las Vegas on July 28, 2016.

Sat, Jul 30, 2016 (2 a.m.)

The Choice Neighborhood Initiative in North Las Vegas aims to revitalize the distressed urban area outlined on this aerial map.

The Choice Neighborhood Initiative in North Las Vegas aims to revitalize the distressed urban area outlined on this aerial map.

For the past year, the upper reaches of North Las Vegas have been buzzing.

Electric carmaker Faraday Future broke ground on a massive production plant. Hyperloop One tested its propulsion-technology system. And city leaders have vocalized desires to bring medical-related businesses to the area surrounding the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System.

But as buildings rise in the north, transformation efforts closer to the heart of the city are underway. A series of community workshops aimed at reimagining a distressed, 1.27-mile urban area kicked off Thursday evening and continued this morning.

They’re part of the Choice Neighborhood Initiative, a grant-funded effort that pulls together residents, city officials and community partners to form a revitalization plan. The area under consideration is a jagged stretch just above the Las Vegas city limits that includes Rose Gardens, a senior public-housing development, and vacant land where the troubled Buena Vista Springs apartment complex once stood.

"It’s such a dire need,” said North Las Vegas Councilwoman Pam Goynes-Brown, who lives in the targeted area. “Of course you want to expand your new areas and your undeveloped areas, but you cannot forget your older wards need just as much attention.”

Some residents have complained that city leaders’ focus on economic growth has left them in the dust. Not so, city officials say, arguing that transformation efforts take time.

The process began in January 2015, when the city received a $485,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The two-year planning grant requires the city to work directly with residents to craft a new vision that focuses on improving housing, educational and job opportunities as well as creating neighborhood conditions necessary for public and private reinvestment.

“In order for a community to improve, the people have to be brought into the process,” said Jim Haye, lead manager of the city’s Choice Neighborhood Initiative.

The city surveyed 1,000 people who live in or around the target area and found a number of troubling trends. Twenty-three percent of respondents said they were unemployed, and another 15 percent were only working part-time. Those surveyed also indicated a need for more health services, particularly for dental and eye care, and better access to job training, food and transportation.

Armed with that information, residents, city leaders and community leaders can begin the creative part — designing a vision for the future. Do they want a grocery store? Maybe new parks? Single-family homes? Or better apartments?

The workshops this week focused on identifying existing community assets, said Kaila Price, a consultant working with Nevada Hand, which is one of the community partners. The goal is not gentrification, she said, but rather enhancing the neighborhood's’ existing culture.

“This is the heart of the city,” she said. “This is the history and the culture. This is where the people started.”

Whatever neighborhood vision emerges, it needs to be rooted in reality, officials said. That’s because the next step is applying for a secondary, much larger, federal grant to jumpstart the transformation plan. (Last year, HUD gave five cities $30 million each for this purpose.)

The grant isn’t a guarantee, which underscores the need for any plan to be realistic — and enticing to potential developers, Haye said. Redevelopment, which officials say could take a decade to reach completion, will be the product of public-private partnerships.

The initiative dovetails with the city’s hopes to reinvent its downtown area as well. City officials have been working with Bunnyfish Studio, the local architecture firm that helped redevelop downtown Las Vegas, to brainstorm what North Las Vegas’ “gateway corridor” should look like in terms of new housing, eateries and retail along Lake Mead Boulevard.

No decisions have been made regarding downtown North Las Vegas. Stakeholders and community residents will be involved in discussions going forward, officials said.

In any case, it’s another sign that the city’s urban area is coming under the microscope as economic opportunities sprout farther north.

Goynes-Brown said she is confident the Choice Neighborhood Initiative will result in a thriving community. She urged residents to participate in the workshops this summer and fall.

“We just need them to come out and stay involved,” she said. “It’s their community.”

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