These local developments helped brighten an often-bleak 2017 - Las Vegas Weekly

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[2017 in Review]

These local developments helped brighten an often-bleak 2017

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United by Tragedy

Las Vegas has been a transient and often disconnected city. But after the tragic events of October 1, that changed forever.

It’s impossible to list the number of people who came together to assist, offering whatever they had to give. Countless heroes acted bravely during the crisis: first responders, EMTs, police, security, doctors and nurses, along with the regular folks who offered comfort, first aid and rides to safety. After the immediate danger had passed, medical professionals helped victims on their long road to recovery. Restaurants cooked meals, and volunteers delivered them to hospitals. Blood donors overwhelmed blood banks. And a newfound sense of unity prevailed.

Then there are the small, invisible ways in which people helped—quiet gestures of friendship and sympathy, a listening ear, emotional support, random acts of kindness and anonymous donations. More than 88,000 individuals have donated nearly $12 million to the Las Vegas Victims’ Fund, setting a GoFundMe record. Vegas entertainers put on a slew of benefit concerts to honor the victims and raise money to assist family members and survivors. Tattoo artists sold Vegas-themed ink for charity. Counselors offered free crisis therapy. So many volunteers helped build Downtown’s Las Vegas Community Healing garden that they had to take turns, because there weren’t enough tools.

“Vegas Strong” is more than a hashtag. It’s a symbol of who we are and what we’re willing to do for each other in the wake of tragedy. If anything from 2017 holds over into the future, let it be the generosity, compassion and community that rose up from something so awful. –C. Moon Reed

Sweet and Tender Hoodlums

Dustin Hoots was one of the many Las Vegans who shifted into high gear without hesitation on October 1, providing victims with rides to local hospitals. Also that night, the Helpful Hoodlums were born, with a mission of continuing to channel the Valley’s spirit of community. Hoots is one of roughly 40 members, most of whom met within the Vegas music and art scenes. The Hoodlums just helped paint the Shade Tree women’s shelter and are sponsoring a Ska Against Homophobia event on January 11. Hoots says he has already filed for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, in hopes the Hoodlums can make an even bigger impact in 2018. –Leslie Ventura

The Legislature Awakens

(J. Emilio Flores/The New York Times)

In a year when the federal government set itself afire, the Nevada Legislature used that heat to do some cooking. The 2017 session was harmonious and amazingly productive, even if you don’t factor in the writing of quick-start regulations that allowed Nevada’s lucrative recreational marijuana industry to launch almost a full year early.

The list of legislative accomplishments is long enough that we can only list a few here. This session brought us two new state parks (Walker River State Recreation Area, near Yerington and Tule Springs State Park in North Las Vegas). A measure was placed onto the 2018 ballot that will allow voters to decide if feminine hygiene products should be held exempt from sales tax. The session produced numerous criminal justice reforms, including a measure that forbids state employers from considering a job applicant’s criminal history, except where it’s relevant to the job. A state cyber-defense office was created; pharmacists are now permitted to dispense up to a year of birth-control medication at once; a new Northern Nevada veterans’ home was funded; UNLV’s new medical school received a financial boost; and a change to net metering regulations made home rooftop solar cost-effective again.

There were failures: Education Savings Accounts, which would allow parents to use public money to pay private schools, went down in flames, as did a death penalty ban. But Governor Brian Sandoval proved himself willing to compromise with his Democratic counterparts, and the tireless work of Nevada’s female state politicians impressed even The New York Times. The 2017 Nevada Legislature ruled. –Geoff Carter

An Economic Sweet Spot

It’s like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: You don’t want your economy to be too hot or too cold. You want it to be just right,” says Stephen M. Miller, director of UNLV’s Center for Business & Economic Research. “I’d say that we’re in the Goldilocks phase.”

The professor recently wrote an economic outlook report for 2018, which predicts a bright future for the local economy, especially in construction. “I see orange cones everywhere I drive,” Miller says, pointing to projects like the Raiders’ stadium, Interstate 11 and new schools and convention spaces. “We actually have a shortage of construction workers.”

Unemployment is down, and housing prices are up, pulling most homeowners out from ruin (we’ve improved from 70 percent underwater in 2010 to 10.6 percent, Miller says). And yet, as the Los Angeles Times noted this month, we’re still affordable enough to lure Californians to our desert for a middle-class lifestyle that eludes them back home.

In 2017, local economic growth slowed a little. But don’t panic—that can be a good thing. “As you recover, you’d hope that you’re growing at a decent pace,” Miller says, explaining that our 2 percent population growth rate is preferable to when it was twice that. After running too hot and too cold, we’re finally seeing sustainable, manageable growth that’s just right. –C. Moon Reed

Golden Age

(L.E. Baskow/Staff)

Las Vegas’ first major-league sports franchise was always destined for immortality, but the Golden Knights have somehow transcended even that. From management’s deft handling of June’s expansion draft to the deep connection between players and community forged in the shadow of October’s terrible tragedy to the squad’s surprisingly strong start on the ice these past few months, these men from Manitoba, Minnesota and beyond will forever qualify as Las Vegans, through and through.

The Knights are the hottest ticket in town, and though that can’t last forever, it already seems clear hockey in the desert can. Arriving first—before the NFL or NBA—was critical for the NHL, which has begun educating newbies about the wonders of its game. Here in the U.S., hockey often gets billed last among the “big four,” but watching these first 30-odd games, a serious case can be made that its most exciting moments actually rank first.

Years from now, when Las Vegas has everything its sports fans have ever wanted—domed stadiums, championship trophies, Super Bowl halftime shows—we’ll look back and remember that these Golden Knights started it all. Wherever this season ultimately leads (and it’s looking like it’ll lead straight into the playoffs), this team brought something truly enjoyable to a tough 2017. –Spencer Patterson

Roads to Somewhere

2017 was all about the cones. Those pointy little orange devils were everywhere: on the eastern leg of the 215 Beltway, where a new flyover lane was added to the McCarran Airport Connector; in the northwest, where a new Spaghetti Bowl-style exchange is being constructed between the 215 and U.S. 95; in the Arts District, where Main and Commerce streets are being reconfigured into one-way “complete streets”; in Boulder City, where a leg of Interstate 11 is being built to speed travel times to and from Arizona; and most notably, at I-15 and U.S. 95, where the massive “Project Neon”—Nevada’s largest-ever public works endeavor—is enlarging the capacity of Las Vegas’ existing Spaghetti Bowl, and hopefully eliminating this city’s worst nightly traffic jam. (For a few more years, anyway. We really, really, really need light rail.)

Needless to say, all those “zipper merges” and overnight ramp closures are supremely annoying. But Southern Nevada is still growing—and doing this road work today will allow the city’s seams to expand tomorrow. –Geoff Carter

Lighting it Up

(Steve Marcus/Staff)

Nevada government acted with rare speed and urgency this year when it came to ushering in recreational marijuana, made legal by voters in 2016. In a cash-strapped state yearning for economic diversification—and to get ahead of neighboring California, whose voters also approved legal weed last year—lawmakers, the burgeoning cannabis industry and even Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval got behind state Sen. Tick Segerblom’s goal of an early start program that would precede Question 2’s original January 2018 implementation goal by six months.

Mission accomplished—and then some. With regulations and infrastructure largely—and swiftly—established, July 1 saw dispensaries flanked by large, snaking queues of people. Sales hit $27 million in recreational cannabis’ first month, grew to $33 million in August and totaled nearly $90 million by the end of September—surpassing all projections and resulting in more than $12 million in taxes earmarked for the state’s rainy day and education funds. With California, Massachusetts and other states significantly behind the curve, Nevada set a new standard for bureaucracy-thwarting efficiency.

There’s more work to be done. The state must ultimately settle the issue of distribution licenses pitting the marijuana and alcohol industries against one another. And thanks to the casinos’ marijuana ban (mostly a result of federal prohibition), municipal governments will individually decide whether to permit Amsterdam-style clubs where tourists (and locals) can legally consume cannabis. If they do, the bud boom stands to reach even greater highs. –Mike Prevatt

Unexpected Treats

Boteco is an innovative wine bar and small plates emporium near Silverado Ranch, exactly the kind of delicious little spot you want in your neighborhood.

The Black Sheep is a refined, chef-driven restaurant with Vietnamese influences that instantly raised the cool factor in its area when it opened this year. A few miles away in the southwest, Elia is serving beautifully simple, Strip-quality Greek cuisine.

Turn to Page 68 and you’ll find all three among our favorite new restaurants, but they have something else in common: They came out of nowhere. Someone from our talent-rich hospitality industry breaks out and opens a local restaurant every year, and we wait with breathless anticipation to see how great it will be. But in 2017, a generous handful of eateries arrived that we didn’t know to anticipate, which makes each bite even better. When so many delicious and distinct dining destinations are popping up at a rapid pace, it’s clear our local restaurant scene has reached the next level. –Brock Radke

Imagining Change

(Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau)

Try telling Mormon LGBT youth that “it gets better.” They’ll most likely respond by saying it won’t—not if they remain faithful to the church. Which is why an alarming number of them commit suicide.

Those youth now have an unlikely ally: Imagine Dragons lead singer Dan Reynolds, a heterosexual Mormon whose marriage and experiences with religion and depression led him to question—and then speak out against—the way the church denigrates its LGBT faithful. Words turned into action in August when he organized LiveLoud, a benefit music festival in Utah that drew attention to LGBT suicide—and some 20,000 attendees. He followed that by executive-producing and starring in a documentary called Believer that also addresses Mormon stigmatization of LGBT youth. It debuts at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah next year.

“I just want to do everything I can to help our LGBTQ youth know they are not sinful,” Reynolds told Out magazine in August. “They’re perfect, wonderful and lovely the way they are, and if there is a God, that God loves them.” –Mike Prevatt

Meal Prep Saved My Life

2017 was a difficult year—so much so that finding time for necessities like cooking felt like an extra burden. Couple that with the coping mechanism known as stress eating, and there’s no telling how many pizzas I was on track to eat. Thankfully, a friend tipped me off to the Heavenly Vegan, and since then I’ve felt so much better. The local meal-prep company makes healthy and flavorful plant-based meals packaged in perfectly portioned to-go containers. It has made it easy replacing that cheesy slice of pie with something like fresh zucchini pasta—and it helped me kick-start my weight-loss goals. I’ll start 2018 with one less thing to worry about. –Leslie Ventura

Also in 2017 …

Taco Bell’s Strip location began doubling as a wedding chapel.

UNLV’s medical school enrolled its first class of students.

Local chicken favorite Flock and Fowl opened a Downtown location.

Black bears returned to Nevada for the first time in 80 years.

Project Neon’s “Big Squeeze” freeway-construction project finished ahead of schedule.

Popular ’70s bar Starboard Tack renovated and relaunched.

Las Vegas music stars The Killers, Imagine Dragons and Shamir all released new albums.

Literary magazine The Believer relocated to Las Vegas—and launched an annual festival.

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