Councilmember Jenny Brekhus on refocusing a post-recession Reno, NV for stronger growth

renoDowntown Reno, Nevada. Photo by Kim Olson via Flickr.

In the early 2000’s, Nevada was the fastest-growing state in the country and cities like Reno saw an unprecedented, rapid boom in residential and commercial development.

Seemingly just as quickly, however, the recession hit and in short time foreclosure rates were soaring. The rest is a story all too familiar to communities across the country that, like Reno, are still struggling to recover from the resulting decline in property values and the decline in municipal revenues that goes with them.

“Neighborhoods were in decline before they even had time to grow up and be built,” says Reno Councilmember Jenny Brekhus, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council. “At the same time, our city amassed a lot of debt.” Exacerbating Reno’s compromised ability to provide vital city services, the city lacked clearly defined municipal boundaries. As the city sprawled, the cost of infrastructure and services like water, sewer and emergency response grew.

Local Leaders Council

Reno, NV hosts workshop on smarter development

Downtown Reno and the Truckee Meadows. Photo by Tonya Poole via Flickr.

In October Smart Growth America visited Reno, NV, to meet with residents and local officials there as part of a “Planning for Economic and Fiscal Health” technical assistance workshop.

The workshop aimed to lay the groundwork for the Truckee Meadows Regional Planning Agency (TMRPA) to examine different development models for the region, with the ultimate goal of creating a regional plan for sustainable development.

Technical assistance

Zappos, Inc. move to downtown Las Vegas expected to boost economy, revitalize downtown

Zappos, Inc., ranked one of the Best Companies to Work For by Fortune Magazine, has big plans for downtown Las Vegas.

The online shoe retailer known for its innovative corporate culture plans to relocate its headquarters downtown, a move that is expected to boost the local economy and help to revitalize a struggling part of the city.

Zappos expects to relocate 1,200 employees from its existing headquarters in Henderson, Nevada to downtown Las Vegas in late 2013. The new headquarters will be located in the current City Hall site, which, after renovations, will be able to accommodate up to 2,000 employees. Estimates indicate Zappos’ move will impact the economy to a tune of $336.6 million and will result in the city collecting approximately $395,900 annually in additional property taxes.

According to a report prepared for the city by RCG Economics, some of the top industries to benefit from the Zappos move include food services, real estate establishments, health care providers and retail stores.

Relocating the Zappos headquarters to downtown Las Vegas, however, is only a small part of CEO Tony Hsieh’s plan.

Hsieh and a few partners will invest $350 million over the next 5 years or so to transform downtown Las Vegas into a community where Zappos employees and the city’s creative community will work, live and play. Plans include restaurants, bakeries, bike shops and even a doggie daycare. Hsieh wants to ensure that the move will not only be transformative for Zappos, but also for downtown Las Vegas.

This revitalization effort aligns with Las Vegas’ Downtown Project, which is working to transform downtown Las Vegas into the “most community-focused large city in the world.”

Hsieh’s motivation to revitalize Las Vegas stems from his personal ambition of fostering a thriving company culture based on employee happiness.

“At Zappos, our number one priority is our company culture,” he said in a statement. “Our belief is that if we get the culture right, most of the other stuff – like delivering great customer service and building a long-term enduring brand and business – will be a natural byproduct of our culture. Our future downtown location will be a great urban environment that will help grow the cultures of both Zappos and Las Vegas.”


Shifting demand spurs new development in downtown Las Vegas

Real estate developers in Las Vegas are seeing growing demand for homes downtown.

An article in the Las Vegas Sun this week chronicles the change, explaining that offers for homes in the heart of the city are coming in above asking price, and as new amenities are created in the city developers expect demand to rise even higher.

“That’s what you need for a city to grow is rental housing,” said New York developer Barnet Liberman, as quoted by the Sun. “There shouldn’t be any barrier for lower-income people to be able to grow and prosper. The only question for developers, guys like myself, is they’ve got to know that there’s a real solid, almost certainty that if they do A, B and C, then they get D. When you see that the city is behind you in terms of a common goal, it helps eliminate some of the risk.”


Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads

Decades of underinvestment in regular repair have left many states’ roads in poor condition, and the cost of repairing these roads is rising faster than many states can address them. These liabilities are outlined in a new report by Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense, released today, which examines road conditions and spending priorities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report recommends changes at both the state and federal level that can reduce future liabilities, benefit taxpayers and create a better transportation system.

Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads found that between 2004 and 2008 states spent 43 percent of total road construction and preservation funds on repair of existing roads, while the remaining 57 percent of funds went to new construction. That means 57 percent of these funds was spent on only 1 percent of the nation’s roads, while only 43 percent was dedicated to preserving the 99 percent of the system that already existed. As a result of these spending decisions, road conditions in many states are getting worse and costs for taxpayers are going up.

“Federal taxpayers have an enormous stake in seeing that our roads are kept in good condition,” said Erich W. Zimmermann of Taxpayers for Common Sense at a briefing earlier today. “Billions of precious tax dollars were spent to build our highway system, and neglecting repair squanders that investment. Keeping our roads in good condition reduces taxpayers’ future liabilities.”

“Spending too little on repair and allowing roads to fall apart exposes states and the federal government to huge financial liabilities,” said Roger Millar of Smart Growth America. “Our findings show that in order to bring their roads into good condition and maintain them that way, states would collectively have to spend $43 billion every year for the next 20 years – more than they currently spend on all repair, preservation and new capacity combined. As this figure illustrates, state have drifted too far from regular preservation and repair and in so doing have created a deficit that is going to take decades to reverse.”

The high cost of poor conditions
According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, every $1 spent to keep a road in good condition avoids $6-14 needed later to rebuild the same road once it has deteriorated significantly. Investing too little on road repair increases these future liabilities, and with every dollar spent on new construction many states add to a system they are already failing to keep in good condition.

State and federal leaders can do more to see that highway funds are spent in ways that benefits driver and taxpayers. More information about the high cost of delaying road repair, how states invest their transportation dollars and what leaders can do to address these concerns is available in the full report.

Click here to read the full report, state-specific data and view the interactive map.


New report reveals smart transportation spending creates jobs, grows the economy

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Americans to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world” to win the future. To rebuild America, he said, we will aim to put “more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges.”

A new report from Smart Growth America analyzes states’ investments in infrastructure to determine whether they made the best use of their spending based on job creation numbers. Recent Lessons from the Stimulus: Transportation Funding and Job Creation evaluates how successful states have been in creating jobs with their flexible $26.6 billion of transportation funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA). Those results should guide governors and other leaders in revitalizing America’s transportation system, maximizing job creation from transportation dollars and rebuilding the economy.

According to data sent by the states to Congress, the states that created the most jobs were the ones that invested in public transportation projects and projects that maintained and repaired existing roads and bridges. The states that spent their funds predominantly building new roads and bridges created fewer jobs.

As Newsweek’s David A. Graham explains, investments in transportation create jobs in the short term and longer term economic prosperity too:

Injecting money into transportation projects, the thinking goes, is an especially potent jobs-creation tool because it not only puts construction workers and contractors to work quickly, it also lays the groundwork for future economic growth and development. Obama predicted the transportation money alone would put hundreds of thousands of workers on the job.

As “Recent Lessons from the Stimulus” explains, not all transportation projects reap these benefits equally:

[S]tates spent more than a third of the money on building new roads—rather than working on public transportation and fixing up existing roads and bridges. The result of the indiscriminate spending? States missed out on potentially thousands of new jobs—and bridges, roads, and overpasses around the country are still crumbling. Meanwhile, the states that did put dollars toward public transportation were richly rewarded: Each dollar used on transit was 75 percent more effective at putting people to work than a dollar used for highway work.


New report: State transportation decisions could save money and reduce carbon emissions

Download the ReportA new report released today by Smart Growth America and the Natural Resources Defense Council found that transportation policies in every state could save money and reduce carbon emissions by making smarter decisions with state funds.

In “Getting Back on Track: Climate Change and State Transportation Policy,” SGA and NRDC found that current transportation policies in almost all 50 states either fail to curb carbon emission rates or, in some cases, actually increase emissions. This contradiction between state policies and broader efforts to reduce carbon emissions means not only that many states are missing opportunities to protect clean air; it means they are missing economic opportunities as well.

In a press conference this morning, former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening remarked:

Transportation makes up an enormous proportion of our national economy and our environmental impact: it must be front and center as we think about how to get the most out of our public investments. The states that rose to the top in this report, California, Maryland and New Jersey, are there because they are meeting the challenge to innovate.