Published Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010 | 7:49 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010 | 10:29 p.m.
Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman delivered a State of the City Address on Tuesday night that was somewhat dire, considering the city’s revenue problems.
But Goodman’s annual address was also hopeful as he talked of several public and private projects that could mean thousands of more jobs, as the city works to diversify its economy with medical facilities, a new performance center and a downtown arena.
He compared what happened in the last decade as a time of feast and what has happened during the recession of the last two years as a time of famine.
“Our priority remains the same — to have a world-class city. And we say that even in the throes of this economy,” the mayor told the audience gathered at the Golden Nugget downtown.
Goodman said he picked the downtown casino, which recently underwent a major renovation with its new Rush Tower, as a symbol of what could be accomplished even during a recession.
Goodman opened his remarks by talking about a recent trip he took to London for the inaugural flight of British Airways flights from Heathrow Airport to Las Vegas.
During that trip, he said, he visited a World War II-era underground bunker where then-British Prime Minister Winston Churchill conducted business and met with leaders to discuss the war.
“I don’t pretend to say that I have any similarities with Winston Churchill other than we both like martinis and we like Cuban cigars,” Goodman said. “But he was facing the dire times of World War II. And we in Las Vegas have the dire times of the economy.”
During the war, the British maintained the attitude there was no other course but to win.
“And that’s the way the city of Las Vegas is looking at the way we are going to proceed in the coming years compared to what took place in years past,” Goodman said.
Goodman said when he was elected in 1999, no one understood how good the city had it.
“Times were extraordinary, as far as the feast was concerned,” he said. The city was able to move forward with developments on the west side, such as the World Market Center, and also create the infrastructure for Symphony Park.
“It was so easy. And then last year, the famine came,” he said.
But during the last year, steps have been taken to ensure that Las Vegas becomes a world-class city, he said.
The first major step is to have academic medical centers of excellence. To that end, the Nevada Cancer Institute has secured land for a facility. And the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health was completed in Symphony Park, which Goodman called “an absolute miracle.”
He said a future expansion is being considered by the Cleveland Clinic, which, if it happens, will create a “medical Mecca” in Las Vegas similar to what occurred in Houston during the 1970s during the oil and gas crisis.
Goodman said the Smith Center for the Performing Arts will be a place for people to experience culture.
The third step will be the creation of a downtown arena and entertainment district, he said.
Goodman spoke of the city's negotiating an agreement with the Cordish Companies of Baltimore to look into the feasibility of developing the downtown area consisting of City Hall and surrounding city-owned property. A downtown sports arena could host an NBA basketball franchise or an NHL hockey franchise and other events. His vision for the property would also include a new hotel-casino where City Hall now stands and an entertainment district, consisting of restaurants, shops and music venues for live performances that would coincide with the existing downtown.
"When those things are accomplished in these very challenging times, we'll know that we were able to meet our burden in making sure that the city goes forward," he said.
But such projects can't happen if the city's infrastructure is not set up in such a way for the public to rely upon, he said.
"We have to do business differently. Only a dummy would be standing up here and not say that. And I'm no dummy," he said. "I realize the times have made us think differently. We have to be prepared to explore innovative ways in order to be able to address what's taken place."
City Manager Betsy Fretwell has been able to make provisions, "just as Joseph did during the ancient times, to address the famine before we knew the famine was going to be here," Goodman said. Fretwell started having a fundamental review process where each of the city's departments was examined to make sure it was running efficiently, he said. If there were vacancies in positions, they weren't filled without going through the review process.
Part of that process is a series of town hall meetings being conducted through the middle of March in which city officials and administrators will go directly to the public to ask what services are wanted and needed. The information will be used to help address revenue shortfalls. The city has been losing revenue each month because consolidated tax receipts, which come from real estate property taxes and sales taxes, have been down because of the recession. It has been estimated the city will be $400 million short over five years.
"It's put us into a position where we just have to make a change on how we're going to look at the services we provide," he said. "We've been spoiled around here."
The city has been "spoiled not only in services but also with the kind of benefits and salaries" that were brought about by arbitration when the city and the city employees' union couldn't agree on compensation packages, he said. But because the city has collective bargaining agreements with the four unions representing employees, the city's only recourse is to cut services or lay off more employees to make ends meet, he said.
"We have asked our employees to step up and to work with us," he said. The city has asked the employee unions to make several concessions, including reopening contracts to take an 8 percent salary and benefit reduction across the board for one year, and if the economy does not get better, then for two years, he said.
He praised the city's employees. And he said layoffs were "the last thing any of us want to do."
The mayor said the governing bodies in the Las Vegas Valley, including the Las Vegas City Council, the North Las Vegas City Council, Henderson City Council and the Clark County Commission, need to talk about consolidation of government services.
"Elected officials are jealous of and very protective of their fiefdoms," he said. "They don't want to let them go. They don't want to talk about what's best for the community. ... We have to have that discussion because there's so much duplication, there's so much expertise that one jurisdiction doesn't have over another, and there's so much that we could do together as a megalopolis that we can't do together as independent little municipalities working with the county that treats itself as a municipality. That discussion has to take place."