Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Finding ways to grow a rural town not far from one of the most famous cities in the world is a tough gig. Mesquite Mayor Allan Litman has been doing that since being appointed to the role in May 2014.
The town of about 20,000 people is anchored by two resorts and a high population of retirees, so a lack of entry-level workers can be a deterrent to many companies.
Litman sat down with The Sunday to discuss the state of his city, Mesquite’s response to being linked to mass shooter Stephen Paddock, and recreational marijuana sales since legalization this summer.
Stephen Paddock was linked to Mesquite after the Route 91 Harvest Festival mass shooting. How has the community responded to the national attention?
The media are going to go where the stories are. I received calls from all over. From Canada, Los Angeles, CNN, TMZ, all over. The coverage was good and, overall, fair with Mesquite and the role of this individual here. He lived here, sort of. He wasn’t a resident. He didn’t vote here. He paid his water bill and electric bill and went in and gambled at the casinos here, but nobody really knew him. So his impact on Mesquite was very brief. He didn’t make any impression on Mesquite.
We don’t have much violence here. Since 2004, we’ve had two murders that involved drug deals gone bad, and we had a murder-suicide with a councilwoman and her husband. We’re not a violent community. We’re exceptionally peaceful, and we don’t make headlines.
Have residents near Paddock’s home complained about the garage, which is still boarded up, or the presence of media?
Sure, there have been grumbles from people who live in that area. But mostly, they say they didn’t know him, and it’s a shame he picked Mesquite.
Mesquite started recreational marijuana sales this past summer. How is it going so far?
It’s been terrific. It’s increased tax revenue, which is great. There were always naysayers who said it was going to destroy the community, but I just spoke with the dispensary owner and the police, and it’s had zero negative impact. If you ask the average person, “What do you know about our marijuana dispensary?” they’ll say, “What marijuana dispensary?” We have a grow facility here as well, so a lot of dispensaries in Las Vegas are buying their supplies from us.
You have the closest dispensary to Utah. Has that made it a tourist destination?
Oh, sure. People are coming here to buy marijuana, and there are signs that say you’re not allowed to take it across state lines, but of course, people do. We’ve made it very clear you don’t break the law in Mesquite.
Why do you think your professional basketball team, the Nevada Desert Dogs of the North American Premier Basketball league, will work here?
Obviously, it’s not going to have an audience of 20,000 people, but its venue, the Rising Star Sports Ranch, holds 3,000, and I think it will be sold out every game. It will be affordable, and there is not an issue with parking. So I think it will be successful.
Do you wish they would’ve used Mesquite in their name rather than just Nevada?
It would have been nice. It would help keep us on the map.
Why is it a struggle to bring new businesses to Mesquite?
We have a couple of projects on the books, and we’re waiting for them to break ground. They’ve paid their fees and finished their plans. We have water, we have lower electric rates. When natural gas is up and running — which should be within two years — it will help turn the commercial areas around. These are fees that impede companies from coming. Other than that, we’re set. We’re never going to be Las Vegas. Comfortably, we can hold 35,000-45,000 people. At our rate of growth, that’s quite a few years into the future.
The other issue is that our workforce is small. We have 20,000 people — disregard everybody over age 62, under age 18 and everybody holding jobs with no intention of switching, and there’s not a whole lot left.
What else is going on in Mesquite?
Housing permits and commercial permits are up. I think we’ve been rediscovered. It isn’t moving as fast as Las Vegas, but if you speak to the people of Mesquite, we don’t want it to move like that. We like slow, steady growth, so we can manage it well. We are a quiet, peaceful community — and that’s why people move here, other than the weather.
Why do you think you’re a draw for retirees?
It’s stress-free. There’s a large number of seniors. We don’t have traffic issues— you’re battling orange cones everywhere you turn (in Las Vegas). And the cost of living is lower here than in Las Vegas.
Does being sandwiched between Las Vegas and national parks like Zion and Bryce Canyon play a role in your draw?
Yes, I do. We are centrally located. You can have breakfast in Sedona, Ariz., and then lunch in Mesquite. It’s a great gateway. Interstate 15 makes things here very convenient.
Many view Mesquite as a stop en route to a destination. What do you think about that?
We had 1.3 million visitors last year who weren’t just passing through. For a town of 20,000, that’s very good. They come here for gaming, golf and relaxation. It’s not a place to just stop for gasoline anymore. It’s now a destination.