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July 3, 2015

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City government:

In North Las Vegas, a crown jewel finds itself in need of a white knight

Maintenance, operating costs may plague city’s new Craig Ranch Park

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Christopher DeVargas

A view of the Craig Ranch Regional Park, currently under construction, Wednesday April 4, 2012.

Craig Ranch Regional Park

A view of the Craig Ranch Regional Park, currently under construction, Wednesday April 4, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Craig Ranch Regional Park

North Las Vegas Mayor Michael Montandon, right, speaks during the Friday groundbreaking ceremony for Craig Ranch Regional Park.  Councilwomen Shari Buck, center, and Stephanie Smith listen as the mayor speaks. Launch slideshow »

Map of Craig Ranch Regional Park

Craig Ranch Regional Park

629 W Craig Rd, N. Las Vegas

Although the opening of North Las Vegas’ Craig Ranch Regional Park is just months away, the cash-strapped city is still figuring out how it’s going to pay to maintain the $126 million park.

Craig Ranch Regional Park, an oasis in the desert, is designed to be the crown jewel of the city. The 150-acre facility is filled with lush green fields, ponds, basketball courts and baseball diamonds, playgrounds and a skate park, among other amenities.

Yet, it also comes with a hefty price tag. Park upkeep and maintenance is estimated to cost North Las Vegas $2.2 million in its first full year of operation. For a city that is one year removed from a financial emergency to close a budget deficit that exceeded $30 million, the cost raises concerns about how the city can afford to keep the park open.

Still, City Manager Tim Hacker insists the park will be open on Labor Day and the city will be able to afford it without charging residents.

“We are really excited about the park and the attention it is getting,” Hacker said. “There’s been a lot of scrutiny on the staff here to make sure our operations plan is as nimble and realistic as we’ve had to become with the wide array of services we provide here in the community.”

A lot has changed since North Las Vegas in 2005 purchased the land that made up Craig Ranch Golf Club with a Bureau of Land Management grant, which also paid for construction. At the time, the city was growing rapidly and thriving. Undertaking a project to build a state-of-the-art park made sense for a city on the rise, public officials reasoned.

Then, in the midst of construction on the park, the economy crashed. North Las Vegas struggled with home foreclosures and declared a financial emergency. City officials cut back on numerous city services, including closing two public pools and limiting library and recreation center hours.

“If I had the ability to have projected what was going to happen to the economy, to the extent that it happened and the duration it happened when it did, we’d probably still be playing golf out there,” North Las Vegas Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Michael Henley said.

During a special parks board meeting called to discuss Craig Ranch Park, Henley mapped out a plan for how the city will pay for the park.

The business plan, which has yet to be approved by the City Council, relies heavily on the park producing its own revenue. Henley said the basketball courts, baseball diamonds and picnic shelters could all be rented out for tournaments or family events.

Revenue also could be generated from charging people to use the park’s highly anticipated skate park. The city has also looked into outsourcing some park maintenance to limit the number of employees it needs to hire and equipment.

In all, Henley said the park would pay for about 40 percent of its operating costs, which also includes six new full-time positions and 20,000 part-time hours, after the first year of the park’s operation. The rest of the funding would come from the city’s general fund.

Eventually, the city plans to look into having nonprofit groups support operating costs. Henley insisted the money to pay to maintain and operate Craig Ranch Park would not come at the detriment of its other parks.

“All I can say is this is what I need to run the park and that the council is very committed to the park,” Henley said. “They’ll have to make the decision if the decision has to be made where the funding will come from.”

Hacker said no decisions have been made as of yet about how much of the general fund would be used to support the park, but the city is committed to keeping the park open. He expects the park to provide an economic boon to the city.

The park is expected to draw thousands of visitors, which could lead to increased business for the restaurants surrounding it and a marketing opportunity for the nearby Texas Station casino. It may even lead to people moving to North Las Vegas, Hacker said.

All of that could help pay for services in the fire, public works and police departments that have been cut.

“You have to invest in yourself to get a return on your investment,” Hacker said. “I think that’s what you’re seeing here.”

While most of the parks board appeared to agree with the plan, board Vice Chairman Ken Kraft was skeptical of opening the park.

“There have been cuts after cuts,” Kraft said. “Citizens want to see resources restored before a shining jewel is opened.”

Henley said the City Council is committed to getting the park open, but he also knows the nothing is certain in this economy.

“I’d like to say there is no concern, but I can’t say that,” Henley said. “We’ll just take it a budget at a time.”

The parks department’s budget plan will be presented at the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board meeting at 5:45 p.m. today at North Las Vegas City Hall.

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