Friday, May 2, 2003 | 11:03 a.m.
While raising a family in Las Vegas for more than 20 years, John Prescia never considered living in North Las Vegas, a city he associated with high crime and low- income housing.
Aliante, a master-planned community that is holding its grand opening this weekend, changed his mind.
About two weeks ago Prescia moved into one of the first homes built in Aliante, which is just inside the northern border of North Las Vegas along the Las Vegas Beltway.
"North Las Vegas has always had a bad reputation, but it's changing ... and this is going to help," Prescia said about the hundreds of houses springing up around his new $250,000 home.
Boosters say this is a beginning, that Aliante can do for North Las Vegas what Green Valley did for Henderson.
Scores of homes are under construction or recently finished in Aliante, and within six years the development is expected to have about 7,500 homes and 20,000 people on 1,905 acres.
The development is a project of North Valley Enterprises LLC, a partnership between developers American Nevada Co. and Del Webb Corp. American Nevada is owned by the Greenspun family, which also owns the Las Vegas Sun.
Local officials and others say the transformation of the once-barren desert landscape into the Aliante community will boost North Las Vegas' image, housing stock and tax base.
"Words cannot describe what it'll do for the city," North Las Vegas City Councilman William Robinson said. "The tax base from the homes and the commercial development, and the identity it's going to give us.
"At one time the perception was you were coming to the gutter of Southern Nevada," said Robinson, who has been on the council for 20 years. "That is already changing. This will enhance what we've already done."
Heading north from the older parts of the city, what Robinson and others call the "more mature" part of North Las Vegas, new residential developments abound as one would expect in one of the fastest growing cities in the country.
"We've been growing very consistently for the last four or five years," North Las Vegas Mayor Michael Montandon said. "Aliante is not going to change our rate of growth, but it will change the type of growth."
The mayor said most of the new homes in North Las Vegas cost between $120,000 and $160,000, which he said are mostly for "first-time homebuyers."
Aliante, though, will have many homes above $200,000 and $300,000, he said.
Now the city has maybe two or three neighborhoods with homes in that price range. Aliante will really expand that market, Montandon said.
Having a larger pool of the more expensive homes will help the city hold on to residents as they become more successful financially.
"One of the problems we have is that people move out of North Las Vegas when they have a little success," the mayor said.
City Manager Kurt Fritsch agreed.
Aliante will "bring new families in and retain families that before would have moved to Summerlin or Henderson," Fritsch said.
The development should also help the city financially, city officials said. However, exactly what the financial impact will be is unknown.
City Community Development Director Jacque Risner said the city did not study the financial implications of the project because there were too many unknowns early in the process.
But based on experience with previous developments, and the expected higher prices of the homes in Aliante, "we assumed this would give us a higher property tax," Risner said.
"But we did not do a statistical study because we had no statistics to study," she said. "We wanted the development to make the city complete. We need it to help us change our image. We assumed it would improve the city's bottom line but that was not the reason for the development."
Montandon said for the first few years the development will probably cost more to serve than it generates in tax dollars.
"Rooftops are a drain on resources, police, fire and parks. But then come the restaurants and grocery stores," he said.
Commercial development will turn around the financial impact for the city, Montandon said.
"It's the way it happens everywhere," he said.
In general, growth is needed to keep a city in good financial condition, the mayor said.
"The tax structure is dependent on growth. If it wasn't built we'd be in a world of hurt," Montandon said.
John Kilduff, president of American Nevada, agreed.
"Residences use more resources, but once you put commercial in there it flips," he said, referring to the financial impact.
Aliante is being built in three phases and about 2,000 homes will be built in phase one, Kilduff said.
There are 100 acres set aside for commercial development, including 40 acres for a casino. Shopping centers will probably open in early 2005, Kilduff said.
Aliante will also have recreational opportunities open for all residents. The first of three parks will open Saturday, and a new public golf course is expected to open in November, Kilduff said.
The casino probably won't be built for years, he said.
Also, the developers expect to spend about $200 million to build roads, schools, parks, a fire station and other infrastructure on the 1,905 acres, he said.
Fritsch said the project has already had an impact on the city's finances.
The land Aliante is being built on was owned by the federal government and therefore was untaxed until it was purchased at a Bureau of Land Management auction in May 2001 for $47 million. The BLM plans to auction another 5,595 nearby acres over the next several years.
The increased property tax revenue was an immediate benefit of the sale to private owners, Fritsch said.
As the land is developed its value increases, which brings in more money that can be spent citywide, he said.
"It will create a tax base that can help do some of the things in the more mature parts of the city with police, fire and roads," Councilman Robinson said.
"A rising tide lifts all boats," North Las Vegas City Councilwoman Stephanie Smith said.
But perhaps the biggest impact of Aliante will be on the image of North Las Vegas, as Green Valley changed Henderson's image.
Once known as Hooterville, Henderson had the reputation that goes with being an industrial town.
But then came Green Valley, and the residential developments that followed helped turn around the city's image.
"One of the most visible, most palpable impacts to the city was the reputation," Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson said.
"Moving to Green Valley became a good thing, now moving to Henderson is a good thing," Gibson said.
Sharon Powers, president and CEO of the North Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, said Aliante could have a similar effect in North Las Vegas.
"Unfortunately people who have lived in the area for a long time think of crime and gangs when they hear North Las Vegas," Powers said. "Aliante is going to re-create what North Las Vegas looks like. When people think of North Las Vegas they'll be thinking of Aliante."
Fritsch said: "North Las Vegas is breaking out of its image of Northtown."
Standing in the front doorway of his new Sun City Aliante home Prescia echoed those sentiments.
"Before this I wouldn't have considered living in North Las Vegas," the 65-year-old letter carrier said.
"But these houses are a little expensive and that keeps the renters away," he said. "This area is a starting point. ... I see nothing but the home values going up."