When Major League Soccer decided not to award an expansion team to Las Vegas last month, we missed out on more than a professional sports franchise and a new stadium. The team and the development could have kept a very important ball rolling—the evolution of Symphony Park.
The ever-promising 61-acre former railyard is already anchored by Las Vegas North Premium Outlets, World Market Center, Molasky Corporate Center, the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, the Smith Center for the Performing Arts and Discovery Children’s Museum. Plans for a casino-resort developed by Forest City Enterprises, assorted residential developments by Newland Real Estate Group and a boutique hotel with spa and restaurant by Charlie Palmer still exist, each long delayed. And that’s the problem.
“It just makes me sick,” laments Mayor Carolyn Goodman. “[The soccer stadium] is $450 million in brick and mortar invested into the heart of the city. Not $450,000. Not $1 million. $450 million. What did that say to anyone in the world with eyeballs on Las Vegas? That would have been the catalyst to spur everything we wanted to happen.”
The mayor and her husband, former Mayor Oscar Goodman, have heavily prioritized Downtown redevelopment since Oscar first took office in 1999. Today, all the action is in the area surrounding East Fremont Street—boosted by Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project collective—and in the Arts District along Main Street, but Symphony Park is where it all begins—the dream of a new Downtown, a cultural and commercial hub, the soul of a real city. This was where the Rock in Rio festival wanted to be before it partnered with MGM Resorts, says the mayor, where the Montreal Jazz Festival wanted to expand.
Symphony Park still wants to fulfill that promise. The stadium deal is dead, but so is the agreement with exclusive developers the Cordish Companies, which opens everything up. Citra Real Estate is still planning to build a mixed-use senior living, health and rehabilitation facility near the brain clinic, and the mayor says there’s been talk about a UNLV medical school facility there, too. The people behind the Modern art museum project are thinking the Smith Center would be the perfect neighbor. It would. City planners are brainstorming connectivity and transit between Symphony Park and the rest of Downtown. And when the mayor looks out her City Hall office window, sometimes she thinks a huge park might be beautiful there, like Central Park in the heart of New York City, where she grew up.
“We’re alive and well and can’t wait to see what happens, but we don’t want to jump on something too quickly,” she says. “We want to make sure it’s the best thing for the area.”