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September 1, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Hopeful predictions for a likely disappointing 2012

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J. Patrick Coolican

I have a warring nature: I’m an optimist who expects the worst to eventually happen. So here’s what I’m hopeful about this year, though I’m sure it will be terrible.

Economic stability: The Strip is back, with tourists and conventions approaching pre-recession levels. Kudos to the marketers, who keep coming up with innovative ways to lure the suckers. (A Lynyrd Skynyrd bar!) The new airport terminal could be a boon to international conventioneers and tourists. And on that international note, massive overseas profits have put at least two of our Strip companies — Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts — on strong financial footing, while MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment achieve some stability.

Off the Strip, the velocity of transactions in the residential real estate market is impressive and suggests some kind of bottom, especially for properties under $100,000.

Caveats: Based on the number of underwater homes, we could still have another 100,000 foreclosures or distressed sales to cycle through.

More important, stability is not progress. We’re still more or less exactly what we’ve always been — a one-horse town.

Schools: As Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones finishes his first full school year, he’s putting reforms in place. Hopefully, we’ll see some short-term results, especially in his triage efforts to get on-the-brink high school students to graduate.

Caveat: The challenges are huge and can’t be met in a year or two, or even five. And expect institutional resistance from the lifers. By one measure, the Hispanic graduation rate of the class of 2008 in Nevada was 29.6 percent, and not much better for the rest of the students. This means our valley is being flooded with uneducated, low-skill workers.

Downtown: The new, albeit totally unnecessary city hall is coming, while Zappos heads downtown into the extant city hall. This will bring jobs and commercial activity to a resurgent downtown.

Caveat: We’re about 20 years behind other cities when it comes to downtown revivals and still way short of what’s needed for it to really take off. You can’t have a viable residential area without a real grocery store. Or some measure of safety — physical, if not psychological.

Finally, can we stop treating Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh like a benevolent king? Great neighborhoods are usually built organically through thousands of small acts of leadership, responsibility and entrepreneurialism, not by a single company. Otherwise, you get a company town. Pretty soon they’re paying you in Zappos scrip and you’re singing the “Cumberland Blues.”

The Smith Center for the Performing Arts: The striking structure adds to a rich, if blurry and abstract, architectural mosaic downtown. And the venue will greatly diversify our cultural offerings. Just as important, the educational program will introduce children to the world of culture beyond Celine.

Caveat: Will we support it?

Metro Police: Thanks in part to the investigative series in the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the sheer number of officer-involved shootings in 2011, there’s serious discussion about our police agencies’ use of force. Metro Sheriff Doug Gillespie seems committed to reviewing policies, and this could lead to some much-needed introspection about the community’s relationship with police.

Caveat: Or, Metro is defensive and insular, and there will be no progress.

Brookings Institution: The venerable bastion of East Coast establishment policy thinking has set up shop at UNLV and seems ready to set the terms of debate in advance of the 2013 Legislature. It offers policy expertise of the noncrazy variety and can help us develop a long-range plan for a way out of our mess.

Caveat: Fancy elites may have little or no effect on what actually gets done. In fact, my whole list is too tilted toward fancy elites. What we need is energy at the grass-roots, at the neighborhood and school and park levels. We need to stop accepting the way things are and start demanding better.

Oh well. There’s always the next year.

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