- Associated Press - Friday, October 30, 2015

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Head to the Arizona State University campus in Tempe and stroll down Mill Avenue. Chances are you’ll see throngs of students crowding wide pedestrian walkways, filing in and out of bars and restaurants, and enjoying the vibrant, college-town atmosphere.

It’s radically different from the environment at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and on Maryland Parkway, where strip malls line a wide street and cars greatly outnumber pedestrians much of the time.

An effort to revitalize the Las Vegas thoroughfare in the style of Mill Avenue has been ongoing for about a decade.

It’s called Midtown UNLV, the brainchild of former university president Carol Harter and UNLV Foundation trustee Michael Saltman, but the project has stalled. With the exception of minor landscaping improvements and the university’s recent purchase of an apartment complex near campus, the area has changed little since the project’s inception.

“There has been some activity, but it hasn’t yet gotten to a level of urban density that we’ve envisioned,” said UNLV’s chief planner, David Frommer. “And I certainly don’t think the recession really helped matters.”

The project has weathered major stumbling blocks since 2005, including the departure of three major backers shortly after the project’s announcement. UNLV’s status as a commuter campus also hasn’t helped.

But a project developer says the biggest obstacle has been a lack of incentives for business owners who want to move into the neighborhood.

“This is an area where we really have no support for tax abatements and redevelopment money,” said Frank Marretti, who is set to break ground soon on a parking garage and retail center at 4700 S. Maryland Parkway. “Without those incentives . it really makes projects tough.”

Marretti bought the land two years ago and entered into an agreement with UNLV to build a campus parking garage and a new headquarters for university police. The 2-acre lot across from Greenspun Hall also will feature retail and office space, the kind of high-density project that Midtown UNLV envisioned but has been unable to attract.

But Marretti said his project took a while to get off the ground because of government red tape. He said a dedicated redevelopment committee would help address that, but Clark County’s own Redevelopment Agency was scrapped in 2009 because of budget cuts.

Frommer blamed the lack of redevelopment resources on county officials having to stretch a limited amount of money over a wide area.

“If county resources were unlimited, it would be great,” Frommer said. “But they have a lot of priorities on their plate.”

Still, Frommer said he didn’t believe a resource strain would threaten the Midtown project.

Meanwhile, a bright spot for UNLV has been a steady increase in the number of students living on campus. Though those students make up only a fraction of the total student body, the university’s residence halls are full.

“It’s a big step forward,” Frommer said. “It enhances the activity because (those students) probably will shop and dine in the area.”

The university’s newly purchased apartment complex on the northern end of campus will expand the number of student beds on campus by another 40 percent upon completion. And UNLV officials are excited about a proposed Regional Transportation Commission project linking downtown Las Vegas and McCarran International Airport with a rapid transit line. The project, now in the environmental impact stage, would revamp Maryland Parkway with lane reductions, bicycle facilities and pedestrian improvements.

Ultimately though, the scope of Midtown UNLV could be its undoing, some say.

Officials want to revitalize a mile-long stretch of Maryland Parkway between Tropicana Avenue and Flamingo Road, which is longer than the length of the university’s eastern perimeter and includes areas that see little student traffic. Marretti said the university should narrow its focus to Maryland Parkway south of Harmon Avenue near the Student Union, where students congregate after class.

“I would rather see half a mile of connectivity, rather than a mile of disconnected development,” he said.

UNLV is expected to update its master plan, including its vision for Midtown UNLV, later this year.

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Information from: Las Vegas Sun, https://www.lasvegassun.com

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