Sunday, Feb. 18, 1996 | 11:59 a.m.
A decade ago, Southern Nevada developer Leslie Dunn took a group of potential investors to the edge of Whitney Mesa overlooking what is now the Sunset Road commercial corridor.
"There was absolutely nothing there -- no freeway. Sunset was two lanes, Stephanie Street and Warm Springs Road didn't exist. It was sagebrush out there," Dunn recalled. "As we looked down there, I told them, 'That's going to be the center of the largest commercial area in all of Southern Nevada.'"
Most of the investors went in with Dunn and formed what is now called Ranch Property Development, partners with Forest City Development in the Galleria at Sunset mall.
"They had more confidence in me than in the area," Dunn said.
When it opens Feb. 28, the Galleria will be the culmination of Dunn's decade-long dream, which was plagued by delays brought on by financing difficulties. The financing was found, the sagebrush disappeared and today the $200 million regional shopping center sits on the site.
The surrounding area has been filled with three power shopping centers, a large home improvement store and a discount store, a linen store and a host of small and stand-alone businesses.
Included are bookstores, home stores and outlets specializing in electronics, clothing, sporting goods and groceries. Banks, restaurants and dry cleaners also have found homes nearby.
By next year, the retail corridor also will be home to Sunset Station hotel-casino, set on 100 acres at Sunset and Stephanie.
It will include an 85,000-square-foot casino, 527 hotel rooms, a 13-screen movie theater, seven restaurants, 2,300 slot and video poker machines, 40 table games, a race and sports book, a swimming pool, a video arcade, retail space, several quick-service food outlets and an entertainment lounge.
At Sunset and Marks Street, a sign announces another Santa Fe hotel-casino, patterned loosely after the northwest Las Vegas resort of the same name. Construction is slated to begin this summer, with completion in 18 months.
It will contain 74,000 square feet of casino space and 300 hotel rooms. It will have an ice skating rink, 1,600 slot machines, 37 table games and four restaurants. The resort also will offer an "adult playground" containing virtual reality games, pool tables, basketball courts, hockey facilities. Price tag: $100 million to $120 million.
Officials are talking about building a spring training baseball facility just east of U.S. 95. Ron Lee's World of Clowns, a golf driving range and the new Valley Auto Mall are south of Sunset and Stephanie.
Mall spurred growth
The Galleria was the impetus for much of the development. Many developers held off on plans to build shopping centers and retailers postponed plans to locate stores in the area until the mall broke ground, said developer Kenny Sullivan.
"The mall made the Sunset commercial corridor a reality," he added.
The Sunset-Stephanie area will contain 2.3 million square feet of retail space with the opening of the first phase of the Galleria. With the opening of the Galleria's second phase in late 1997 or early 1998, plus other development, the total retail space in the area will grow to 2.9 million square feet, according to Jacqueline Young, senior vice president of Lee Commercial Real Estate Services.
In comparison, the area around The Boulevard, including the mall on Maryland Parkway, contains 2.8 million square feet of retail space, Young said.
The Sunset-Stephanie area "is probably 80 percent planned or approved for one kind of project or another," said Bob Wilson, principal planner for the city of Henderson.
Build-out is expected in less than 10 years because there are only a few large undeveloped parcels in the immediate area. One is north of the mall between Galleria Street and U.S. 95. The other is south of Sunset Station adjacent to the driving range.
Wilson said the vacant property on the north side is zoned industrial, but it may not stay that way for long.
"Industry won't pay the kind of money that that piece of property will pull in. It will be something other than industrial, maybe commercial or maybe apartments," Wilson said, adding that he doesn't know if an apartment developer would be willing to pay the price that parcel would command.
The area to the south near the driving range is slated for commercial development, but no plans have been filed.
No matter when and how the remaining area takes shape, residents, developers and city officials are confident the finished product won't resemble the congested area around The Boulevard.
"Absolutely not," Dunn said. Through careful master planning, developers have "created an area that will not turn into something where people don't want to be."
"I think it's going to be much better," said Sullivan, president of Sullivan Development Co. His family, along with the Thomas and Mack families, own the Crossroads at Sunset on the southwest corner of Sunset and Stephanie.
"One thing Henderson has done is pay close attention to planning details in the area," Sullivan said. "It's not going to allow a hodgepodge like Maryland Parkway is. It will have appropriate landscaping and it has had an architectural review so that the buildings all look better. It will stand the test of time perhaps better than Maryland Parkway has. They (planners and developers) know more today than 20 years ago when they built Maryland Parkway."
Alice Martz, executive director of the Henderson Chamber of Commerce, said the area is unique.
"I don't think it's going to be exactly like any other area around -- it's a little different mix," she said, pointing to the two hotel-casinos and nearby tourist attractions: the Kidd & Co. marshmallow factory, Ocean Spray Cranberries and the Ethel M Chocolates factory. Those operations draw tour buses that may, in the future, be diverted to the mall.
Farther east on Sunset, between U.S. 95 and Boulder Highway, more commercial activity is evident.
One developer is putting up a 54,000-square-foot multi-tenant automotive retail center on the north side of Sunset, east of U.S. 95, said Curtis Sanders of Americana Commercial Group, which represents the developer. The center, due to open in May, is 55 percent leased.
Sanders said he expects frontage in this area to develop commercially with industrial property located behind the commercial.
"I don't see us encouraging any heavy industry in that area," city planner Wilson said. "The trend is now toward people wanting to go commercial."