10 Things Vegas Needs: These attainable advances could push our town forward

Illustration: Ian Racoma

Major sports franchises: check. Las Vegas now has its home teams and the pride of identity that comes with them, and that’s a good thing. You won’t have to be a hockey or football superfan—or even a sports fan at all, really—to feel good when the Golden Knights and Raiders start racking up wins with our city’s name on them. Civic pride is funny like that.

But it’s not an unreasonable thing, given how much sports franchises cost in terms of infrastructure and staffing, to ask why we’re going all-in on one element of city-building when so many others need our attention. Yes, some of these shortcomings are being addressed: The nascent UNLV School of Medicine will bring more and better doctors to the Valley, and the proposed Art Museum at Symphony Park is meeting its fundraising goals. But there are still a lot of dangling threads. Let’s see if we can weave these into the tapestry of our town.

1. An extension of the Beltway covering the east side

Here’s an excerpt from a letter to the Las Vegas Sun, by local Jay Craddock: “When (the Clark County Commission) withdrew support for the eastern beltway they doomed the Sunrise community to decades of decay. … Without our rightful portion of beltway, Sunrise will be at a disadvantage for years. Our already difficult traffic situation will worsen. Our property values will plummet. Our businesses will suffer.”

That letter was written in 2002. Since then, the three-quarters-completed beltway has driven development at a furious pace—the southwest part of our city pretty much didn’t exist 15 years ago—and Craddock’s dire predictions for the beltway-less east side have played out almost exactly as he suggested. The Charleston and Eastern exits off the 95 back up every night at rush hour, as east-side residents struggle for the convenience the rest of the Valley takes for granted. It’s long past time Vegas’ highway loop was closed. –Geoff Carter

2. More schools (and better pay for teachers)

Steve Wynn revolutionized the Strip by building the Mirage. Grand casinos seem normal now, but without his vision, Las Vegas would be some sad, dust-bound Atlantic City knockoff. That was 27 years ago. It’s time for a fresh investment in Nevada’s future. No, we’re not proposing Major League Baseball. Like Whitney Houston before us, we believe the children are our future. We’ve already screwed them on the environment; we’d be jerks to shortchange them on education, too.

So how do we do it? We’ve tried everything else, so let’s throw money at the problem. Let’s spend whatever’s needed to make a sizable investment in next-generation Nevada. Let’s build more schools, repair the ones we have and pay teachers so much money, the nation’s best and brightest will fight for a chance to teach here. We won’t need to rely on corporate donors to give students needed supplies. And we won’t need vouchers or education savings accounts, because every school in town will be the best. Just think what it’ll do for property values!

Don’t want to pay more taxes? That’s fine, neither do we! Let’s up the room tax and make the tourists pay for it. That argument worked when we financed a stadium. Surely it’ll work for something far more important.

Nothing’s more important than sports, you say? Sure, as long as you don’t mind having bumbling ignoramuses care for you when you’re old and sick. –C. Moon Reed

3. The new version of the Ultralounge

Remember Tabú Ultra Lounge? If you’ve worked in Vegas nightlife or made the rounds during the sexy MGM Grand venue’s run from 2003-2013, you more than remember it. You loved it. Everybody did. It was edgy and intimate (capacity was around 350) with big-club bottle service and better music. It was hot for a long time, but those who recall it fondly cherish Tabú the most because you could actually talk to somebody in there—real-life social.

The chance to connect with other humans—sorely missing from today’s club scene, although newer venues like Intrigue at Wynn are making a bit of headway—used to be the real reason to go to a nightclub in the first place. These are not the lamentations of an old guy who doesn’t go to the club anymore; the California kids who’ve been packing XS and Omnia and Marquee for years are growing up. Tastes are changing. It’s a bit past time for some diversity of experience. We’re not seeking the death of the megaclub, we just want some options: music that isn’t pop-EDM or trap, a vibe that doesn’t boom like a concert or festival, a place that’ll make us want to put our phones away. –Brock Radke

4. A forward-thinking midsize music venue

Las Vegas has arenas up to its eyeballs (T-Mobile, MGM, Mandalay Bay and Orleans, with more on the way), and our city surely leads the world in 2,000-to-6,000-capacity music rooms per capita (the Joint, the Pearl, the Chelsea, Brooklyn Bowl, the Colosseum, Park Theater …). But dip below the 1,800-cap House of Blues, and you’ve got a long way to fall before landing on tiny clubs like the Bunkhouse Saloon and Backstage Bar & Billiards Downtown. Which leaves acts capable of drawing 500 bodies with two basic options: quarter-fill Brooklyn Bowl and feel like a failure or skip this town and move on to the next.

The calendars at Southern California favorites like the Troubadour, the Glass House and the El Rey tell the story of the types of acts that don’t play here, partially because they don’t have a place that fits: Car Seat Headrest, Billy Bragg, Mogwai, Robyn Hitchcock, L7, Steve Earle, Crystal Castles … Promoters at the Bunkhouse can’t make them pencil out without overcharging for tickets, and the bigger rooms are better off staying dark than staffing an undersold show. So Las Vegans miss out on seeing certain favorites, and those bands miss out on developing the market.

Las Vegas actually has a great venue right in the sweet spot—the 650-capacity Vinyl at the Hard Rock Hotel—but five nights a week, it’s filled by resident show Raiding the Rock Vault. When that show runs its course, it would be interesting to see what might happen if Vinyl took the booking gloves off. Maybe it could become home base for all the acts that never seem to head our way. –Spencer Patterson

5. Coffeehouses with late hours

Las Vegas is an always-on city, so why aren’t our coffee shops? Not to be lame, but sometimes it’s nice to study or chill at night in a place that’s not a bar. Is this too much to ask from our glowing metropolis of 2 million-plus thirsty souls?

Madhouse Coffee in Spring Valley is that rare unicorn: an indie shop open 24/7. But have you seen its size? No way it’s big enough to accommodate our growing population of caffeine-slinging night owls.

Still, there’s progress. Recently, Makers & Finders in the Arts District extended its hours to 10 p.m. during the week and 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Managing Partner Josh Molina loves the local bar scene, but he envisions an evening alternative “where you can work, have a few drinks, have late-night meetings.” Booze and a new menu accompany the new hours. We wish him luck, so that others might follow the late-night lead. –CMR

6. A stronger local art market

It’s tempting to assume we’ve got this whole “art” thing squared away. The Art Museum at Symphony Park isn’t even close to breaking ground, and yet it has already co-presented (with Reno’s Nevada Museum of Art) its first exhibition: the splendid group show Tilting the Basin. We’ve got a bunch of buildings with “art” in their name—Arts Factory, Art Square, Emergency Arts—and some of them are on a street called Art Way, in a neighborhood called the Arts District. And those giant glowing paintbrushes—have you seen them? Impossible to look at those suckers and not think, “Ah, art.”

But none of this—not the museum, not the galleries, not the damn paintbrushes—means anything without people buying up local art on the regular, and I’ve yet to speak to a single local artist who’s truly happy with the art market in this town. Simply put, not enough people are buying local art. Many of the galleries in our tourist-facing malls sell crap—Andy Warhol rip-offs, airbrushed dolphins flying through space—and haven’t we heard enough parachute journalists declaring, “Who knew there were artists in Vegas?” We know. And we ought to begin supporting our local artists by actually purchasing their work and putting it on our walls—in place of that fake Warhol. –GC

7. A municipal wifi network

This isn’t about replacing our current home wireless options (though it would be nice to see Google Fiber come into this market, bringing healthy competition and its one-gigabit-per-second upload/download speeds). And we appreciate the free wifi LV.Net offers in the Downtown entertainment corridor. But mobile connectivity on the Strip is spotty at best, and when it’s not unbearably hot we kinda like the idea of taking our work out to Sunset Park. Municipal wifi—free for a couple hours, perhaps, with low full-day rates—would not only make this town more tourist-friendly, but might send the message to tech companies that Vegas is a place where they could hang. –GC

8. A surge of affordable housing

The economy is booming again, which is great for all the people who managed to scrape through the recession and hang on to their houses. But for the rest of us, finding a place to live is becoming more difficult. As demand outstrips supply, both renting and buying grow more expensive. In turn, home construction is roaring back into action.

Last time cranes dotted the skyline, the city was immersed in a building frenzy. Stephen M. Miller, director of UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research, remembers a moment during the housing bubble when developers were giving out lottery tickets for the chance to buy a house. In other words, the entire town was temporarily insane.

This time, let’s think before we build. The ever-expanding tentacles of suburbia thing has been done to death. Sure it’s nice to have a backyard, but in our Mojave Desert, they’re just gravel pits—you won’t miss ’em. Also, sprawl lends itself to all sorts of modern ills: traffic, obesity, lack of community, environmental degradation and the general malaise of staring down a sea of stucco. We can do better. We have to.

There’s no magic answer to a problem as complex as where to put more than 2 million souls. But we could start by building more high-density, multi-use housing. Let’s build in the urban core’s vacant lots and on top of strip malls. And let’s not just build fancy pseudo-urban lofts for rich people. Let’s tear down the gates and build developments that include something for all price points. Any investors interested? –C. Moon Reed

9. A comprehensive public transit solution

Light rail is expensive. There’s no disputing that. But there’s a good reason dozens of cities across the country—automobile-centric cities like LA, sprawling desert cities like Phoenix, tourist cities like San Diego and even cities less populous than our own, like Tucson, Arizona—have invested in fixed-rail transit systems: It costs more to go without them. Major companies want to relocate to cities where their employees can commute to work, saving them from spending on parking infrastructure. Conventioneers and tourists like cities with rail transit, because it’s one less thing to worry about. And residents like rail transit, because, when correctly implemented, it can save you a half-hour in traffic, a $12 parking fee or a $30 cab/Lyft ride home from the airport.

We’re taking steps in the right direction. The Regional Transportation Commission is moving ahead with plans for a streetcar line that would connect McCarran, UNLV, Midtown, Fremont East, Symphony Park and the emerging Medical District. Plans are reportedly being considered to extend the privately owned Las Vegas Monorail to Mandalay Bay and also to add a stop at the Sands Expo and Convention Center, connecting all of our major convention spaces. (And it could help alleviate the traffic jams at Raiders home games, if a pedestrian bridge is built across I-15.) And there’s talk of connecting the Strip to the airport via light rail, though heaven knows how.

These are all promising developments—and simultaneously, they’re not nearly enough. Vegas isn’t a big small town anymore; it’s a city, period, with big-city growing pains that will only intensify. Traffic will worsen, more venues will charge for parking and taxicabs won’t be able to keep up with a diversifying local economy. We should pay for light rail and more buses before the need becomes critical, and draw up plans that will allow those networks to grow as we do. And we’ll rub our glorious new transit network in Phoenix’s face. –GC

10. More park space and urban trails in the city core

Last October, city councilman Bob Coffin (Ward 3) neatly explained to the Weekly why there’s so little park space in the city core: because there was never a plan that included it. “It was ‘use every square yard for housing’—from 1905 with the first subdivision and all the additions to that first subdivision,” he says. “Then all of a sudden, gee, there were no parks except for Huntridge Park in the ’40s, and then a couple on the outskirts.”

Coffin and other council members have since made a few strides toward addressing that lack of park space—Symphony Park and the upcoming Mayfair Place Park are notable acquisitions, and our fingers are crossed for the proposed Spencer Greenway, which would convert a Flamingo-to-Charleston utility corridor to bike trails and greenbelt. But there’s nothing as big and multi-faceted as Sunset Park in the plans, nothing as inviting as any park you’ll find in Henderson or Summerlin. (Plus, some Downtown parks have a homeless population that needs to be considered.) The center of our city needs more playgrounds, more rolling grass, more walking trails, more dog parks and more playfields. These aren’t entitlements to be earned; they are necessary things for a Valley whose population continues to rise. Just like basic living, fun has to happen somewhere. –GC

The Las Vegas Weekly staff has identified 10 things Las Vegas still needs to become a truly great city, but we could use your help identifying even more. A major league soccer team? A gigantic air conditioner? Make your case with our meme generator!

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