As one of the nation's housing market goldmines over the last few years, it stands to reason that Las Vegas would be one of the hardest to fall during the industry's latest “dust-up.”
With more than 25,000 resale homes in the market's MLS, cancellation rates hovering at 30-plus percent, and August permits down 20 percent from the same time last year, it's clear the market is mired in a run of bad luck. But if Vegas is on such a bad roll, why would Newland Communities choose mid-year 2006 to enter into the fray—just as many others are thinking about cashing in their chips?
“We're trying to create a city within a city and provide an urban environment that works for the local residential customer,” says Rita Brandin, vice president and development director of San Diego–based Newland Communities.
In fact, as land buying grinds to a halt, and traditional single-family home builders angle to renegotiate their existing options, Newland, at the direction of Mayor Oscar B. Goodman, is finalizing a blueprint to introduce a whole new passel of homeownership options to native residents—one that includes an opportunity to live, shop, eat, experience culture, and even work in what was formerly the “seedy” area known as downtown Las Vegas.
In May, Newland Communities was named project manager for a 61-acre site officially known as Union Park. Newland's master plan for the project includes a performing arts center, an Alzheimer's research facility, boutique hotels, a casino, and 3,600 residential units in a variety of product types.
CALLING VEGAS HOME Located about five miles north of the Strip, one should not confuse the resident population envisioned for downtown development with the denizens attracted to the much-hyped, high-end condo craze that sizzled and then fizzled along Sin City's ever-expanding tourist destination.
“It will be the cornerstone of downtown,” says Daniel Van Epp, executive vice president and COO of Newland. “It's almost 10 million square feet of mixed-use. It's the largest single piece of ground [downtown], so it represents an opportunity to kind of do it all in a neat, new way that is really focused on a place for the residents of Las Vegas to call their own home, as opposed to being focused on tourists.”
It's a version of gentrification—with a twist. Although it's fair to compare the undertaking to recent turnaround efforts in urban environs, such as San Diego or Los Angeles, the 61-acre piece of dirt upon which Newland plans its city-style project is not a redevelopment, but a new one on vacant land. “We've recommended that, in order to have this vision of a city within a city, to make it viable and have the energy from a 24-hour perspective, you have to have residential in a downtown urban core—in addition to the office, in addition to the retail,” Brandin says. “The way you see the retail so that it's viable and long-lasting, is that you also have that built-in residential customer.”
The master plan for the Union Park project includes housing of assorted shapes and sizes: brownstone-type walk-up units, lofts, and mid-rise and low-rise lofts over retail, as well as mid-rise and high-rise condo buildings.
The effort with Newland is not the city's first attempt at the redevelopment of Union Park. After taking office in 1999, Mayor Goodman declared that revitalizing downtown was a top priority, and he acquired the property during his first term in office.