West Las Vegas, the historic center of black Las Vegas, has always been cut off from Downtown—passing from one to the other requires passing under two freeways, the 15 and the 515. But over the last year the symbolism has been made real.
Look dead ahead. The green, glass-walled offices of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck anchors the vista of Downtown from the end of F Street. The building, which also houses the headquarters of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, a fitness club and an IRS office, is the future of the area—it’s everything the city wants it to be.
And from the edge of West Las Vegas, it’s cut off by a construction project—the widening of I-15—that has blocked the underpass that once linked F Street with Downtown. F Street was closed last year, but thanks to spirited protest by the neighborhood, the Legislature ordered the road reopened. Still, it’s a classic example of government ineptitude.
It’s true that even the closing of F Street didn’t entirely seal off the neighborhood. It’s still possible to cross under the 15 at D Street and H Street, each just a few blocks from the closure. Still, to get Downtown—and under the 515—requires a detour onto MLK if you’re coming from H, or a detour to Main Street if you’re coming from D. F Street truly was a straight shot.
But that says nothing about the inconvenience to neighbors, and the disregard with which they were included in the highway plans. Most people I spoke with were concerned mostly about delays the road closure may cause emergency vehicles.
Eddie Williams’s home is just across the street from the construction staging area. Pickups work their way down the dirt road every couple of minutes. Williams watches from a chair in the shade. “They never should have closed it,” says Williams, who’s lived here for 20 years. “It’s just a waste of taxpayer money … A lot of people depend on this street.” And now construction has added noise and dust to the neighborhood.
Across the street, 95-year-old Estelle Jimerson, who’s lived on F Street for half a century, takes a more philosophical approach. “If they don’t open it we won’t die by it.” But her friend, Ruby, was more direct: “It’s noisy, it’s terrible, it’s awful.”
The street was closed last fall. What’s striking is how permanent the work looks, how much of a pain in the ass it’s going to be to punch a hole through this mess. Reopening F Street is estimated to cost as much as $70 million.
“It gives the appearance this is a nonvalued community as far as having access to other city agencies and services,” says Pastor Robert Fowler of the Missionary Baptist Church. The attitude now, he says, is a hopeful wait and see. “The plan is in place, but until the plan is actualized, we’re holding on.”
But what’s important to remember is that this is still a struggling neighborhood. The blocks immediately west of 15 still look as if a tornado rolled through. If there’s a lingering feeling of unease about F Street, it’s just this: By reopening the street, which should never have been closed, city and state officials can say, in effect, “There, we finally acknowledged you and listened to you.” And the real work of integrating West Las Vegas back into the fabric of the real city may never get done.