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December 19, 2014

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There’s little the county can do to clean up eyesores left by recession

Image

Steve Marcus

A view of the SkyVue observation wheel construction site as workers remove scaffolding Tuesday Jan. 21, 2014. David Gaffin, a Skyvue developer, wrote in an email that work is continuing on the project but that the scaffolding is not needed at this time.

The Las Vegas Valley is pockmarked with half-built shells of condos, malls and casinos left stalled by the recession.

The economy is on the uptick again, and investors are circling to snap up the abandoned projects at bargain prices.

Yet, the scars of the crash remain eyesores to tourists and commuters. The most visible examples on the Strip include the $2.9 billion Fontainebleau and the Skyvue observation wheel.

So why can’t government leaders do more to get rid of them?

The short answer: City and county officials can’t force developers to clean up after themselves, and they can’t afford to do it themselves.

There are a few potential options. But they’re either too politically impractical or too expensive.

The government could require a completion bond that forces the developer to set aside money up front as insurance. If the project fails, the government would tap the bond to pay for the cleanup. But this option is a tough sell for Clark County, where billion-dollar Strip developments are common.

“Those costs would be so high that it would basically thwart development,” County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said.

City and county officials could take over stalled projects through condemnation, a move that would first require changes to local government policies. Even then, the cost would be prohibitive, said Christine Springer, a UNLV public administration professor.

Springer said any law changes in Nevada would be controversial.

“It can be very touchy,” she said. “In this state, if a city took over a private development and said ‘We’re going to do it,’ people would be greatly offended.”

While governments can’t afford the cleanups, officials in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Reno, San Diego and San Francisco said they have limited options for forcing developers to clean up stalled projects.

City and county officials do have the power to force cleanups at properties that threaten public safety. On the Strip, they have also had success getting developers to install decorative fencing or building wraps to hide the blight.

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