Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012 | 2 a.m.
- Arts community demanding spotlight in Las Vegas (02-29-2011)
Symphony Park/downtown site map
The opening of the new Smith Center for the Performing Arts has some calling this the year of downtown Las Vegas.
The Smith Center, which opens March 10, will bring music, theater and dance to a world-class facility in the city’s 61-acre Symphony Park. Then in November, the adjacent Discovery Children’s Museum will open.
Nearby, the gleaming City Hall has opened. And the old city hall is being remodeled as the corporate headquarters for Zappos.com, whose CEO has his own designs on reinvigorating downtown.
But this burst of redevelopment isn’t washing over the rest of Symphony Park, north of the Smith Center.
”You’re looking into the future, two to three to four years, before we expect additional construction activity,” said Rita Brandin, senior vice president and development director for Newland Real Estate Group.
There is, however, good news on the empty acreage: Nearly every building site in Symphony Park is spoken for once the economy rebounds, Brandin said.
”All the parcels, except for one, have been committed,” Brandin said, either through exclusive negotiating or a “disposition and development” agreement with the city. Brandin said Newland is working with several developers who have expressed interest in the last uncommitted property — known as Parcel L. She said one developer is in early talks.
Newland has several development agreements with the city. The real estate development company wants to build a neighborhood of residential buildings with street-level retail shops just north of the Smith Center. The plans include low-, mid- and high-rise condominiums, live-work units and town homes on five city blocks.
The Newland residential and retail blocks would surround a proposed 426-room Charlie Palmer boutique hotel and restaurant.
The hotel developers told the city about a year ago that they would have to wait until the market is right for them to move forward.
Another agreement is in the works for the only casino property in Symphony Park, which would be developed by Forest City, the project manager for the new City Hall. Forest City’s 47-story hotel would include 1,000 rooms, 120,000 feet of casino space, as well as retail shops, restaurants and meeting rooms.
And then there’s the much-discussed sports arena.
Cordish Companies has an exclusive agreement with the city to study the feasibility of an outdoor entertainment district and professional sports arena on 12.9 acres on the northwest side of Symphony Park.
Mayor Carolyn Goodman recently said that she’s still striving to bring a professional sports arena to town — a torch passed to her by her husband, former Mayor Oscar Goodman.
Despite efforts to bring an arena to other parts of the Las Vegas Valley — including sites on the Strip, near UNLV and in Henderson — the mayor and Las Vegas City Council have continued to pursue an arena for Symphony Park.
The city started working with Cordish in 2009 to put an arena and entertainment district where the old city hall stands at Stewart Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard.
But the City Council voted last fall to move arena plans to Symphony Park when it became apparent that Zappos.com wanted to relocate its corporate campus to the old city hall.
Cleveland Clinic expansion
Although much of Symphony Park is on the drawing board, there has been major progress, said Bill Arent, the city’s economic and urban development director.
In addition to the Smith Center and the children’s museum, the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health — the park’s first tenant — has been open for a couple of years and plans to expand. Brandin said it has agreements with the city for a medical campus on multiple parcels to the east and north of the Ruvo Center’s distinctive undulating Frank Gehry-designed building.
Developers are also moving forward on infrastructure.
A 38-foot lighted art piece was installed this month as a monument at the park’s entrance at Grand Central Parkway and Symphony Park Avenue.
"It ... is in keeping with the Symphony Park design goal of ensuring art has a high profile in all areas of the development,” Brandin said.
The sign leads into Symphony Park’s green area.
That two-acre central park is expected to open in time for the March opening of the Smith Center. The park, named for Donald W. Reynolds, will host a variety of outdoor performances and festivals.
It’s intended to serve as a central gathering place for visitors at the Smith Center and the children’s museum.
A major roadway and utilities project is going on along the northern half of the site. That 150-day project, expected to be completed by March 12, will finish the north/south connector, City Parkway. The project also brings in utilities, including streetlights, gas, electric power, cable and fiber optics.
A pedestrian bridge is in the works to connect the new City Hall parking garage at 500 Main St. over the Union Pacific railway tracks to the Smith Center. That project will be complete in about a year, Brandin said.
Waiting and seeing
Combined, the total public and private construction investment to date at Symphony Park, which includes The Smith Center, Cleveland Clinic, the Children’s Museum, the park and infrastructure, is close to $750 million, according to Bill Arent, the city’s economic and urban development director.
But it could be a while before more private investment occurs.
Brandin said developers are waiting for the “healing process” to occur in restaurant, hotel, residential or casino markets before moving forward.
She predicted that developers would begin projects in 2015 or 2016.
If there isn’t much movement for development in the next five years, the council will probably take another look at what it wants on the site.
However, Brandin said she thinks it is important for the mixed-use aspect of the development to continue.
”Anything in Las Vegas is kind of wait and see,” she said. “Symphony Park is going to be very special.”