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August 29, 2015

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Political controversy’ prompts firm to withdraw from North Las Vegas deal

An international design and consulting firm has withdrawn from contract negotiations with the city of North Las Vegas to develop a master plan to entice international corporations to the city.

The announcement comes days after state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, offered stern comments about the $500,000 contract, scheduled for an April 6 city council vote.

Gensler senior associate Rob Cousins, who recently gave a presentation to the North Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, sent a letter to city officials Tuesday morning explaining the company's decision to withdraw its proposal, citing a “present political controversy” that wasn't explained. Calls to Gensler weren't immediately returned.

“Should the political situation be resolved at some point in the future, we would be happy to resume discussions with the City of North Las Vegas as to how to move forward in a productive manner,” Cousins wrote.

The city council approved contract negotiations with Gensler in late January. The vote was 4-1 to pursue the contract, with Mayor Shari Buck as the lone dissenter. Buck and Horsford have been critical of the city spending $500,000 on plans while it is struggling to make ends meet.

Sun columnist Jon Ralston reported Friday that Horsford, whose district includes part of the city, was “incensed” about the cost and manner in which the contract was pursued, citing emails between a North Las Vegas lobbyist and city officials. Buck has called the proposal “a very pie-in-the-sky boondoggle.”

North Las Vegas was planning to pay for the Gensler contract using $250,000 from redevelopment funds and $250,000 from the city's general fund, specifically from a deferred communication project by the North Las Vegas Police Department.

According to emails, Horsford raised issue with Unibex Global Corporation, a local developer that has a public-private partnership with the city to develop its master plan. Unibex owner and North Las Vegas resident Otis Harris had suggested city officials meet with Gensler for the project last year.

The city did not use a request for proposal process to seek other architecture firms for the project, a point Horsford honed in on. City officials have said Gensler was chosen because it is a world-renowned corporation that has re-envisioned cities around the world, such as Abu Dhabi and Sydney.

Unibex was not mentioned in the Gensler contract, which was being finalized before Gensler pulled out, and no money will be going to Harris, city officials said.

Councilman Richard Cherchio, a proponent of the project, said he hopes Gensler will return to the table after the primary election April 5.

“It’s unfortunate with the political environment that Gensler stepped back to wait,” Cherchio said. “North Las Vegas needs to create its own identity. We don’t have to be a bedroom community to Las Vegas.”

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