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Light Rail On Charleston And Rancho Among Ideas City Pursuing

sacramento_rt_light_rail_23rd_street.jpg

"Sacramento RT Light Rail 23rd Street" by Hourann Bosci - Flickr: Sacramento RT Light Rail. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons

A light rail train takes passengers along 23rd Street in Sacramento. Could a similar system be coming to Las Vegas?

Downtown Las Vegas is changing.

Some believe, for the better.

Recent reports say that gaming revenues and room rates are down on the Las Vegas Strip, they are up on downtown’s Fremont Street.

But change is a constant. And things can always get better or worse. For positive change, the city is seeking public input on where, how and why downtown should change. 

Should, for instance, the Fremont Street Experience remain like it is? What about parking meters — should they be limited in time and place? Though some economic numbers are better, some casinos are, in fact, doing poorly — does the city have any responsibility to help them?

And is light rail an idea whose time has come?

Betsy Fretwell is the city manager of Las Vegas.

The City Council, whose members include Mayor Carolyn Goodman, are heavily influenced by the research and work of city staff. 

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

Is light rail coming to downtown?

I hope so. I think it will be transformative for our community. I’m very supportive of that. So is the city. The city council has adopted that as one of our transportation priorities to see that through all the way, if we can to Cashman, so all the way from the airport to Cashman, serving UNLV, we feel, would be critical important for our community.

Support comes from

And we’re exploring a light rail line along Charleston and Rancho. The council authorized us to go forward put together a funding package to do what we need to do to do preliminary work to identify those two routes to see if there is a way we could be ready for federal funding should it become available to expand light rail throughout our city.

Some business owners downtown are unhappy that the zip line, Slotzilla, blocks Fremont Street from view. Some are talking about keeping the electric canopy over the street, but opening the street to traffic. That’s how it was until the mid-1990s. Why does or doesn’t that idea have any potential?

We have heard similar concerns about the west end of the zip line blocking the Main Street entrance if you will. Hopefully, the Fremont Street Experience will give some consideration to potential modifications to that landing pad and the structure that supports it to make it a little more inviting from the Main Street area.  

On Cashman Center?

That site holds great potential, if the 51s are relocated. And Cashman no longer performs the way it was originally intended. We have constantly been considering what could that possibly be.

The economy is doing so much better than a few years ago. That means city tax revenues are up. Downtown gaming and hotel rates are up. From your vantage point, why is that?

Well, I think there are a lot of really cool things that are going on downtown. We have experienced quite a remarkable renaissance.

We’ve got new businesses. Some of them are not in the casino corridor. They’re popping up all along East Fremont and in the Arts District. If you drive down Main Street, and you haven’t been down Main Street in a really long time, it looks completely different.

I think people have faith in downtown. I think they are excited about what they see.

On Symphony Park development and connecting downtown:

One of the things that we have learned through a series of conversations over the last couple of years is that we really need to connect our traditional downtown, the Fremont Street area, and the Arts District to Symphony Park. And so, we’re making major investments in additional pedestrian connections and vehicular connections that will make it easier to get across the tracks between those two areas and I really do believe that is going to pay off big dividends for both parts of downtown.

 

The downtown circulator:

What we want to do, working with our partners, is put together a circulator that will serve the downtown. We will have a route or series of routes that will provide vehicular access, in small bus-like things, some places use trolleys some places use van-like vehicles, and get people from point A to point B pretty easily.

 

Why is downtown development important?

If you just think back to the perception of downtown 20 years ago, nobody was proud of downtown.  They weren’t. I mean we had a booming Fremont Street… But people wouldn’t venture past it.  

There is a new trend. I mean I don’t know how new it is, but there is an emerging trend that people want to live in downtown areas. They like that urban experience. There is a lot of research on this… the bottom line is people want those opportunities that is what we are trying to create.

On the Neon Museum and Mob Museum:    

Obviously, the Neon Museum and the Mob Museum have done an incredible job. The Neon Museum, 90 percent of their visitors are from out of town, which is just a great attraction for our entire region. We’re bringing in over a million annual visitors for cultural tourism by itself, which is pretty astounding when you think about that.

On parking downtown?

The great thing about the meters is you can change them.

It is a delicate balance. I know it is frustrating for a lot of people, but at least we have the infrastructure in place now that allows us to adapt based on changing conditions.

We’re getting more funding through the paid parking and less through citations, which is exactly what we were trying to achieve.

We just rolled out a new app for people on their phones that kind of directs them where to go park, where they can go park for free, where there is on-street parking near the business they are trying to patronize, whether or not there is availability,

Guests

Betsy Fretwell, Las Vegas City Manager

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