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City commissions study on downtown business improvement district

A local group, built by power players such as Mark Fine and Irwin Molasky, is looking to carry downtown Las Vegas into the next chapter of its evolution.

The Downtown Las Vegas Alliance connects business and property owners in downtown Las Vegas to help form the next chapter of the region. Its membership lineup includes several well-known names, including the Golden Gate, Switch Communications and the Downtown Grand.

The Alliance has offered support on several city initiatives, such as a study of the formation of a business improvement district in downtown Las Vegas. It would create a self-imposed tax for business owners in the downtown area, with proceeds going for marketing and improvements to safety and cleanliness in the district.

“Every city except two our size has a business improvement district,” said Todd Kessler, chairman of the Downtown Vegas Alliance and a Resort Gaming Group/Downtown Project executive.

At this point, Kessler said the Alliance has gotten involved in the process and is trying to keep its more than 60 members informed on the actual specifics of a plan, which is still being created.

“It’s coming to a culmination soon,” Kessler said.

The downtown master plan, which was adopted by the city earlier this year, made room for a feasibility study on creation of a business improvement district in downtown Las Vegas.

“There’s been a lot of outreach to the property owners on it, and there’s been enough support that leads us to believe to keep continuing pushing for it,” said Scott Adams, deputy city manager for the city of Las Vegas.

Adams said the city has been roughly defining the boundaries of the district and assessing for each property owner, and the process has come with a few challenges.

Some of these challenges include determining who would be included in the district including the Fremont East District, which is already formed as a small business improvement district. It sits on the east side of Las Vegas Boulevard South, on Fremont Street, bounded by Eighth Street to the east, Ogden Avenue to the north and Carson Avenue to the south.

Under a public-private partnership with the Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency and business owners in the Fremont East district, business owners committed $5.5 million in improvements. The three-block upgrade brought a pedestrian-friendly street redesign, landscaping and neon signage, according to Fremont East’s website.

Adams said the city has considered a hybrid for the region, where they would become part of the larger proposed business improvement district. But any assessments collected would be returned to the group.

Representatives of other parts of downtown, including the Arts District, have mixed feelings about entering into the improvement district. And Adams said the city still needs to have conversations with the Fremont Street Experience and talk about things such as security and maintenance.

“There’s some of those things that have to get worked through,” Adams said.

There are other things that the alliance focuses on for downtown.

Seth Schorr, chairman of the Downtown Grand, said the organization focuses on infrastructure, including light rail and other forms of transportation.

“At a bare minimum, it’s our job as an organization to make sure the business owners and stakeholders are aware of the conversations, have a voice,” Schorr said.

In its early days, the alliance was “a bunch of like-minded people working hard to create a forum to discuss idea advancement, renovation and redevelopment of downtown,” said Richard Worthington, president and CEO of the Molasky group.

Worthington, who was chairman of the alliance in its early days, said the organization morphed from there into an entity with that could wield its power as far as Carson City in the state Legislature.

But the goals of the alliance don’t align with those of a traditional chamber of commerce, which are general business advocacy groups. Many of the alliance’s members had big-business interests and were more concerned about the “downtown ecosystem,” Worthington said.

The concerns were more geared toward personal security, real security, cleanliness and things of that nature, he said.

Las Vegas can learn how other cities have shored things up.

In early November, the alliance presented an event featuring executives from other cities that have improved their city centers by creating a business improvement district. Members of the guest cities came from Phoenix, Denver and the Los Angeles area.

The study commissioned by the city, which is being headed up by Colorado-based Progressive Urban Management Association, will be ready for review in the next couple of months. The group’s report will likely take the alliance and the city to the next phase of redevelopment of downtown.

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