ALTHOUGH THE AREA called West Las Vegas encompasses only 2.7 percent of the total land area of the city, it is intimately intertwined with the history of Las Vegas. For the last 100 years, the West Las Vegas area has experienced dynamic changes within its boundaries, making it both a positive and challenging area to plan.
In 1904 a surveyor named J.T. McWilliams began selling lots in the McWilliams townsite that later became known as the "Westside" because of its location on the west side of the railroad tracks. The settlement quickly became an important supply point for miners in the area. A business district was also established here, including the first bank, blacksmith, wholesale house, drug and general store and several restaurants. During these prosperous times the townsite population was approximately 1,500.
Many of the early pioneers that settled here in the area were African-Americans. As early as the 1930s, they purchased land and started their own thriving businesses. However, during this time Las Vegas began to institute Jim Crow Laws, which established segregation in the valley. African-Americans that had settled in other areas of the valley were forced to move to the West Las Vegas area and McWilliams townsite. Until the construction of the Bonanza Underpass in 1936, trade between the east and west communities was virtually cut off by the railroad tracks. Segregation and cheap land resulted in overcrowded conditions in the Westside. Tent subdivisions sprang up next to the McWilliams townsite to accommodate the growth.
The African-American population increased significantly during World War II when many came to work for the Las Vegas Army Air Gunnery Range (now Nellis Air Force Base), Basic Magnesium, Inc. in Henderson, Nevada, and the booming hotel casino industry. During this time African-American businesses flourished in the "Westside." Hotels and casinos were built in West Las Vegas to provide entertainment for African-Americans, including the former Carver House (right) and Moulin Rouge Casino/Hotel (below), and the still standing Town Tavern, located on Jackson Avenue, the area's historic commercial strip. Even African-American entertainers performing on the Strip were not allowed to stay there. "Westside" hotels, boarding houses, restaurants and nightclubs such as the former Harlem Club, Brown Derby and the Ebony Club prospered until the advent of civil rights legislation in the 1960s. Dollars that originally supported African-American owned businesses moved out of the area and notably contributed to the economic weakening of the West Las Vegas community.
In 1994 the city embarked on developing a guide for future development and revitalization in West Las Vegas called the West Las Vegas Plan. This plan was the city's effort to intervene in a positive way would foster cooperation and goodwill between the city of Las Vegas and the residents of West Las Vegas.
The goals of the plan were citizen empowerment, quality of life, improving physical condition and image, reinvestment in housing and commercial areas and promoting diverse employment opportunities. Since 1998 a total of $58 million in capital projects and $16.7 million in program dollars were spent in the area, but private investment was still lacking.
The Las Vegas 2020 Master Plan was adopted in 2000, placing West Las Vegas in the Neighborhood Revitalization Area focusing on urban design concepts. It is centered upon creating walkable neighborhoods with a mixture of housing and commercial districts served by transit. Recreation and cultural amenities are within walking distance of most homes.
The updated West Las Vegas Plan was adopted in April 2006. The community's input was integral in the development of the plan. Six community meetings were organized in the West Las Vegas area with city staff conducting workshops and educational sessions for the attendees.
Since the inception of the 1994 plan, the area has grown by more than 5,000 people. The Hispanic population expanded from 5 percent of the total to 30 percent. The population is also getting older. The number of professionals grew in the area and the number of businesses doubled.
The goals of the updated 2006 West Las Vegas Plan were a mixture of recommendations from the 1994 plan, the Las Vegas 2020 Master Plan and public input. While goals of the plan were still centered upon public safety, employment, education, recreation and quality of life, the implementation strategies have shifted to what activities generate more private investment, commercial projects and housing units in the area.
The updated 2006 plan's strategy focuses on supporting the need for more housing units to support and attract commercial projects. The updated plan incorporates urban design proposals such as introducing mixed use development into existing commercial areas and maintaining multi-family residential to serve as buffers between existing homes and commercial areas. The updated plan emphasizes integrating the West Las Vegas economy into the regional economy by encouraging the development of commercial and office space to raise the median income and lower unemployment.
The things people care aboutpublic safety, employment, education, recreation, quality of lifedon't change. What does change is the way we implement our plans to achieve these goals. The city in partnership with the West Las Vegas residents, strives to successfully plan for their unique future.