Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Stand Up and Be Counted

Millions, Billions, Zillions

Las Vegas is growing up, out, and every other way. When I arrived in our fair city in the 1960s vestiges of the mob still operated in the town (which many old timers will tell you was not all bad), rain was rare but gully washers (floods after summer rains) were common occurrence when the 3.75" annual rainfall fell, and the two tallest structures were probably the Mint downtown and the Dunes, both of which boasted "Top of the ..." restaurants. A sign at the city limits announced the population as 152,000.

Let me clarify that when locals say Las Vegas they usually mean greater Las Vegas which includes Clark County. Few non-Vegans realize that the city of Las Vegas ends before the Strip begins. The Sahara Hotel, which is the first hotel on the "Strip" actually resides not in the city of Las Vegas but in Clark County. Although the city has grown over the years in size, county commissioners have strongly resisted the city's entreaties to merge the two entities. In the early 1970s Las Vegas City Police which sported fancy blue and white cruisers merged with the County Sheriff police force to become Las Vegas Metropolitan police and adopted their more traditional black and white prowlers. City and county fire departments remain independent.

Greater Las Vegas includes the cities of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, Boulder City, Mesquite, and several smaller villages as well as plenty of unincorporated land. Why the geography lesson? Greater Las Vegas reached a milestone of surpassing 2,000,000 residents. As recently as 1980 the area boasted only a half million permanent residents.

Consistent growth has mixed blessings. The good news is that since 1981 the economy has been in a growth mode every year. That means more taxes paid and lots of people making lots of money while other parts of the country saw slowdowns. The bad news is the infra structure that has struggled to keep up and outguess where development would take place. But it is fascinating to track the growth of the Las Vegas Strip hotels. Before the area reached the one million mark the Mirage opened (1989) followed by Excalibur (1990), Luxor, Treasure Island and MGM Grand (1993).

The boom continued with the opening of the Monte Carlo (1996), New York New York (1997) Mandalay Bay, Paris, and The Venetian (1999) and the Wynn (2005). They built it and they did come - not only tourists (39 million last year alone) but those who came for work and did not leave. Each new hotel room that was built brought seven new jobs and 14 new residents. The pace made Las Vegas the fastest growing area in the nation 19 out of the past 20 years.

Other facts and changes include the billions of dollars put it into flood control to tame the gully washers, usually successfully, two billion dollars to build 285 miles of pipeline to bring more water to the valley, five billion dollars to build streets and highways, and opening the equivalent of one new school each month over the past couple of decades. Locals used to describe Las Vegas as, "Big city, small town." Much of that has changed since more than 50% of todays population did not live here thirteen years ago.

Entertainment on the Strip has changed too. Live music in showrooms is pretty much gone, a victim of cutbacks, name entertainers have given way to variety shows, and Lido, perhaps the variety show that started it all in the 1950s is gone as its host hotel the Stardust - which is now all dust awaiting a new even more grand edifice to replace it.

The rate of growth might have changed and some housing might be overpriced at the moment, but latest reports say that new residents still arrive at a rate of 5,000 per month. You've gotta love it. How about a little blogging music maestro.... how about "Runaway."

Dr. Forgot

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