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A new proposed redevelopment area mostly doesn’t look like it needs the help

<p>Panorama of the Hyde Park strip mall on Charleston. PHOTO: SCOTT DICKENSHEETS</p>

Panorama of the Hyde Park strip mall on Charleston. PHOTO: SCOTT DICKENSHEETS

A redevelopment area might be moving in next door. Well, not exactly next door, but around the corner, along the commercial corridor of Charleston Boulevard, just a few blocks from where I live.

I know a little bit about redevelopment, and I’m pretty familiar with the part of West Charleston that, along with parts of Decatur Boulevard and Sahara Avenue, might become Redevelopment Area 2, the sequel to the downtown redevelopment area that covers Fremont East, Symphony Park and the Historic Westside. Some people might be happy with this development. I’m just confused.

Here’s why: The streets that have been singled out for redevelopment — which basically involves giving public money to private ventures — aren’t all that hard-up.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t some knee-jerk defense of my ’hood. The part of Charleston in the proposed redevelopment zone isn’t the nicest part of town, but it’s far, far from the worst. There are rougher neighborhoods just west of where I live.

But Charleston? It’s full of small businesses and office parks. It has doctor’s offices, a Walmart and fast food restaurants.

By law, a redevelopment area can only be created in a blighted neighborhood. When I think of blight, I imagine weeds, abandoned buildings and broken windows. This neighborhood has almost none of that.

The city proposes redevelopment areas, not the neighbors. They do allow residents and business owners to opt out.

The new redevelopment area would encompass the narrow commercial corridors along Chalreston Boulevard between I-15 and Rainbow Boulevard, Decatur between the 95 and Sahara, and Sahara between the I-15 and Decatur. It doesn’t include any of the residential neighborhoods between these streets.

I read the blight report about this area written by the redevelopment agency. They found that family incomes have grown more slowly in the proposed redevelopment area as compared to the rest of Las Vegas. And then they graded the relative shabbiness of all the buildings on a scale from zero to five, with five being the worst — a burned out, structurally unsound heap of a structure.

The redevelopment agency rated a full 77 percent of the buildings as zero to three. That means that 77 percent of the buildings were in good condition or in need of “minor improvements.” Only 5 percent earned a five rating.

Just as I suspected. My neighborhood really isn’t all that blighted. It does have some irregularly-shaped parcels, which is, apparently, a criterion for blight.

Of course, it’s hard to compare blight in different neighborhoods. The city only writes blight reports for proposed redevelopment areas. But you’d be more likely to find obvious, endemic blight on the Historic Westside or along Boulder Highway, with many abandoned building and empty lots.

According to the report, the city picked this redevelopment area because it has potential, but is struggling demographically, with lots of small businesses and older buildings:

“One property owner has assembled approximately 80 acres of commercial, residential and industrial property for a large mixed-use commercial project, which is adjacent to the current Downtown Redevelopment Area. This prime location is ideally situated to take advantage of the current demand for development adjacent to the Las Vegas valley’s built-up urban center. Its redevelopment is crucial to the long-term health, prosperity and stability of the surrounding neighborhood.”

If the City Council approves the new redevelopment zone at its Aug. 15 meeting, it will confirm some of the harshest critiques of redevelopment — that it lacks standards and controls and doesn’t really have anything to do with blight. It would be great if the redevelopment money just went back to small business owners, to help them with signage or maintenance.

But, too often, these zones create huge tax subsidies for wealthy developers. And sometimes they displace the area’s original small businesses, like the Pappas family, pushed out by the redevelopment of the Fremont Street Experience.

The city only has so much money to spend. It needs to decide whether this neighborhood’s business owners need it more than law enforcement, health care or education.

Of course, some of the area’s business owners want access to the same grant programs as downtown businesses. I get that. It seems unfair. But there will always be neighborhoods that get left out. And certain neighborhoods that are always left out. You can tell which neighborhoods these are by the buildings. They have a lot more fives than Charleston Boulevard. I’d rather see the council focus on those.