Recruiting from Black neighborhoods for mining jobs in rural Nevada, while seemingly well-intended, reflects ulterior motivations. (Photo posted by City of Las Vegas on the city’s Twitter account, Feb. 20, 2021).
The legislative district Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong represents is blocks from some of the biggest projects to come to downtown Las Vegas in recent years.
On Wednesday, Summers-Armstrong told state lawmakers she’s seen a “$50 million tax credit go to the building of an events center, on to the World Market Center… which is adjacent to the Chelsea Outlet,” she said, reeling off projects built with government tax incentives. “There’s the hotel downtown, Main Street Station, which used millions of dollars in redevelopment funds, and I can guess the Circa that just went up got some, as well as the Mob Museum, and the Smith Center. All of these are in a redevelopment area that I can ride my bike to in my home, which is in an area that has seen blight exacerbated in the last 20 years because of disinvestment. People move out. Houses are derelict. We have empty lots.”
The Circa received no redevelopment incentives, according to City of Las Vegas spokesman Jace Radke.
Summers-Armstrong says she’s seeking what she calls “clarity and transparency” from the City of Las Vegas’ redevelopment program via Assembly Bill 335, which would provide community oversight for projects.
With a few exceptions, Las Vegas’ predominantly Black Westside has been excluded from the fruits of redevelopment.
In 2019 the Current reported that Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, during her first two terms, shepherded $187 million in redevelopment projects, $163.6 million of it downtown, while the Westside and other areas of the city languished.
At the time, the city had invested only $22 million in the Westside, which lacks basic necessities such as grocery stores.
“Since we aren’t on the same side of the railroad tracks as downtown, the money has not trickled down,” Katherine Duncan, president of the Ward 5 Chamber of Commerce, said at the time. “Trickle-down doesn’t get to us. It sounds good in theory, but it’s not working.”
Under state law, redevelopment agencies are designed to transform blighted areas by through tax incentives and other means in the interest of attracting investment, higher property values, and more tax revenue down the road. The projects must at least try to employ local contractors and residents. Efforts have largely failed.
“One of the things I’ve seen over the years and heard in the community is we don’t know what’s going on,” Summers-Armstrong told members of the Senate Government Affairs Committee Wednesday. “We don’t know if the employment plans are working. We don’t know if local small businesses are getting contracts.”
Assembly Bill 335 would open the books on City of Las Vegas redevelopment projects midway through the process to the Southern Nevada Enterprise Community Board and the Nevada Commission on Minority Affairs, allowing the members “to have some active participation in what happens in the redevelopment zone,” Summers-Armstrong said.
“When the agency was first created, it had a goal of providing employment on every project that got one dollar of funds,” Duncan said. “Fifty-one percent would be people who lived in the redevelopment area with a special outreach to women, Blacks, veterans, and protected classes.”
Redevelopment flourished while the employment requirement got “glossed over,” says Duncan, largely for lack of a trained workforce.
“The problem is, these are going to be prevailing wage projects,” Sen. Ira Hansen, a Republican, said at the hearing. “You have to have a certain number of journeyman grade craftsmen, craftswomen, or craftspersons, whatever it is.”
“I’ve been watching redevelopment programs my whole life,” Hansen said, adding they “siphoned money away from other legitimate government services that were needed.”
“We share some of those concerns,” Kelly Compton of the City of Las Vegas said to Hansen, adding the city can “say we tried and move on if we can’t find the people in that area, which is what we currently do.”
Summers-Armstrong noted she’s lived in West Las Vegas for 22 years, watching “edifices go up” and her district’s 15 percent unemployment rate remain unchanged.
“We are giving away money for a purpose — to help people come into our communities to build,” she said. “The people who live there should have a reasonable expectation that when this money is used for that purpose, somebody will go to a proper organization… and say ‘Hi, we’re here to do a project and we need to hire some people and can you help us? Can you make some arrangements and relationships to get people employed?’”
“There may not be in that neighborhood the type of people with the type of skills to do the work,” Hansen said.
“The whole purpose of a redevelopment agency is to rebuild communities that are devastated. But you can’t do that if people are not working,” Summers-Armstrong responded. “We have to say ‘Yes, this is difficult.’ But we are going to figure out how we can work with the unions to get somebody trained and employed,” so they are not on government assistance “when they could have been learning a skill to move out of poverty.”
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