Monday, Feb. 4, 2008 | 2 a.m.
In Southern Nevada it’s the gigantic casinos that get noticed first.
North Las Vegas, however, hasn’t had many towering projects of the type that defines areas and provides directional beacons across the valley — until now.
The nation’s fastest-growing city is poised to add more than 330 acres of gaming development, which could bring as many as 2,500 hotel rooms — and a mini-Strip of sorts — to North Las Vegas.
That in turn could help lure the type of commercial development that residents have clamored for in recent years.
More than 200,000 people now call North Las Vegas home, a number expected to top 500,000 by 2025.
But retail and commercial growth has not kept pace with the residential boom.
That may change with the next wave of gaming development, which includes proposals for five casinos within two miles of the Las Vegas Beltway and Interstate 15 interchange, an area where the city has loose plans to set up a “casino alley” 10 miles north of the Strip.
The gaming districts for the planned casinos have been approved, including two this month.
The city now has seven active gaming districts and only four casinos that could be considered major ones.
Local officials see the seemingly sudden burst of casino development as evidence that more will follow, especially at the Beltway and Interstate 15.
“You got the confluence of two major expressways there,” said Mike Majewski, economic development director. “You have the racetrack. It’s close to the Air Force base.”
The area near the Beltway and Interstate 15 is built for commerce: two major routes with plans for surrounding residential development. It’s also not far from Las Vegas Motor Speedway. One planned resort is positioned at the edge of the speedway’s massive parking lot.
“We hope that gaming will be a part of it,” City Manager Gregory Rose said. “But not the only part. We hope there will be theaters and restaurants and bowling alleys and spas.”
And there are plans for a hospital and a UNLV campus about three miles west, at the Beltway and Pecos Road. That, too, will help development in the northern part of North Las Vegas.
The only casino under construction in the city is Aliante Station at the Beltway and Aliante Parkway. Modeled after the Green Valley Ranch Station and Red Rock Resort, it is expected to open this year.
“It’s evidence of the further growth of the locals market,” said David G. Schwartz, director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research. “North Las Vegas is booming, and if the people moving there are like everybody else in the valley, they are going to want to gamble.”
In downtown North Las Vegas, a renovation of the Silver Nugget Casino along Las Boulevard North is planned. That is part of an effort to redevelop the city’s older section, led by the building of a new $156 million City Hall.
The city also has approved the expansion of the Fort Cheyenne Casino at Civic Center Drive and Cheyenne Avenue. It will be renamed The Mystic and the project will include major facade improvements.
Rose said North Las Vegas plans to commission a study to examine how much gaming is appropriate for the growing city. Authorization of the study will be on the next City Council agenda.
So far, the city has examined casino proposals on a case-by-case basis.
One positive has been that casinos are being planned before nearby residences are built.
“I think, why not?” Councilman William Robinson said. “It creates jobs. It takes (the casinos) out of the neighborhoods.”
Schwartz said Aliante Station and perhaps other planned casinos in North Las Vegas will fill the same niche as places such as Red Rock Resort.
“In some ways they are local properties,” he said. “But they are destination properties.”
Those places have concerts and conventions, the same as Green Valley Ranch and other off-Strip casinos.
“People coming to Vegas are not just going to the Strip anymore,” Schwartz said.