With new leadership in place, North Las Vegas pushes forward to redefine its own downtown.
Written by Temple Kinyon
Photography by Kira Weisz
My first stop was a small, unassuming building east of I-15 at 2212 East Cheyenne. I walked in, and a comforting smell and warmth enveloped me. Real Donuts has been baking its special recipes for 25 years. “We use a secret ingredient no one else does because of its cost,” Kevin, the manager, boasted. “Our donuts and Mexican bread are one-of-a-kind. People from all over ask if I can deliver or ship to them. For the record,” he smiled, “I can’t.”
Continuing on, I queried a few residents. “North Las Vegas doesn’t have a downtown,” Brett Nary, esthetician and Zumba instructor, answered. “There’s no location where you can do everything. A downtown needs city government buildings with family-oriented places to hang out, shop, eat, visit a park, or go to a movie theatre.” She acknowledged the exceptional amenities North Las Vegas offers, including Somerset Academy on Losee where her daughter attends school, and Craig Ranch Municipal Park. “But, there’s no downtown. We grew too fast and never worried about a central place for everyone to go.”
Long-time resident Michelle Santiago agreed. “There’s no downtown in the traditional sense. Our downtown is Las Vegas’s downtown at Fremont Street.”
“She’s right,” said Elgin Simon, 12-year resident and retired Navy Signalman. “When I think of downtown, it’s the area down by Fremont. We borrow theirs.”Contemplating their opinions, I detoured and visited Left of Center Art Gallery and Studio on West Gowan Road. Downtowns must have an art gallery, right? The current exhibit by Lolita Develay left me awestruck especially when I learned she’s the first African-American woman to obtain a MFA degree from UNLV. The permanent African Art collection was stunning and illuminating. “Every piece has a story,” Marylou Parker, gallery director, explained. And those stories are remarkable and in many cases, inspiring. Feeling fully immersed in the cultural and artistic community that founder, Vicki Richardson, cultivates in her gallery, I sat down with her, Marylou, and Denise Duarte, director of development.
“Is a downtown classification all that necessary as long as people know where they can gather, whether it’s a musical, art, or outdoor event? Art should be in every neighborhood, not just downtown,” Richardson articulated. “However, the area around city hall could become a central area to bring together different residents to create a sense of community.”
Duarte interjected, “I see downtown as a concept that served a purpose in early communities, centralized for the business district. Today, downtown is a state of mind and not necessarily a specific place.”
I have to applaud Left of Center’s creating its own kind of “downtown” vibe. They serve the entire valley with a constant mission of making art accessible to all segments of the population. Richardson builds a sense of community at the studio, so maybe downtown is a state of mind.
Sitting in my car, I admitted I was perplexed. Is Downtown North Las Vegas in little pockets all over the city’s 100 square miles, perhaps at Left of Center, Craig Ranch Regional Park, or Real Donuts? Or is it an actual geographical location?
I suppose when Thomas L. Williams purchased 160 acres a mile north of Las Vegas in 1919, he probably wasn’t thinking of where he should put downtown. According to KJ Evans in her February 7, 1999, Las Vegas Review-Journal article, Williams wanted ranches, agriculture, and a unique definition for his town. Unlike Las Vegas, church people would govern Williams’s town. After building his first home near the current location of Jerry’s Nugget on North Las Vegas Boulevard, he realized his dream.
In 1924, Williams built Oasis Auto Court in the same area, and it became a center of activity with amenities—a grocery store and community center among them—for residents. Upon the city’s incorporation in 1946, that central area was probably Downtown North Las Vegas, and perhaps that’s where it still is. Following a trail of breadcrumbs, I arrived at City Hall on Civic Center Drive to talk with three of Mayor John Lee’s talented team members and to learn the official answer once and for all.
“Downtown North Las Vegas technically runs off I-15 down Lake Mead to Civic Center, including city hall,” Ryann Juden, chief of staff, explained. “It’s a redevelopment corridor. The council and mayor are pushing for downtown to have its own identity by embracing our culture, which is highly Latino and military, and build something unique. Mayor Lee has put emphasis on major renovation downtown. You’ll see entertainment, restaurants, shopping, and other large projects that’ll completely change the area.”
“A dialysis center will be opening a location here,” Director of Economic and Business Development Gina Gavan added. Outlining the opportunity North Las Vegas faces, Gavan explained that by utilizing several grants, the city will develop transit options and infrastructure to create new streetscapes and connectivity with valley residents. “Very soon, you’ll see private development happening near city hall, and once we complete all the phases, we will have more than a $40 million investment.”
Downtown North Las Vegas has definitely turned around. Its best days are ahead of it – Ryann Juden
“Downtown North Las Vegas needs to be a place people go to recreate, live, and work,” Mitch Fox, director of communications, emphasized. “Our diverse ethnicity is a powerful component and will definitely be a draw to Downtown North Las Vegas. It’ll be different than the other downtowns in the valley.” like Thomas Williams wanted.
The sense of community at places like Left of Center and Real Donuts energized me, but the plans of Mayor Lee and his team to develop the downtown excited me. The mayor, council, and private developers all possess the energy and desire to certainly see their vision come to fruition.
As Gavan said, “Essentially we’re making history. We get to redefine a community and how it grows. I guarantee people’s perceptions will definitely change about Downtown North Las Vegas.”