This first published March 3 2009 in the Henderson Home News website, a Community Newspapers of Nevada publication.
For many of us calling Las Vegas home, it is no surprise that Forbes magazine named it America's "emptiest" city. A part of Las Vegas' unprecedented growth was built on speculation — that is speculation the building boom would last many more years.
Many people speculated by buying multiple homes in hopes of flipping them for a nice profit. How could they resist, drunk on the Kool-Aid whipped up in the sink of the media-spun hyperbole? The house- and land-flipping overinflated the values of real estate, whether commercial, residential or otherwise.
The economic train was certainly chugging away with a full head of steam generated by coal that was no more real than the houses built of cards by overzealous and profit-drunk builders. It wasn't just the builders that were driving the economy under the influence of false prosperity, either. Local governments were also fairly tanked up, too, creating huge parks and infrastructure with future dollars in the form of development fees, while older parks and infrastructure lost priority.
Yes, the Las Vegas Valley has the best of the best anywhere, but it's now waking up from its unbelievable binge at the bowl of tainted punch. The skeletons are visible in the forms of empty building pads, lifeless steel structures and the barren wood frames of unfinished homes.
What about all those empty houses in Las Vegas pointed out by Forbes?
I say, so what? No big deal, unless you own one or two of them. I still believe Las Vegas is a great buy, especially now that some sense of truth in home values is returning to the market.
Some say Las Vegas will never be the same again. To that, I wonder, compared to when? Three years ago? Perhaps not, but it's feeling a lot like 1989 again, and to a native Nevadan, that's not all bad. Life seemed a little simpler then, didn't it?
The construction boom has ended, forcing the skilled and unskilled labor forces to leave to seek greener pastures in other job-barren states. This is not urban flight, either, because Las Vegas is more suburbia than metropolis.
Las Vegas will recover at some point. Folks tired of bitter winters will continue to look at Las Vegas for retirement, because there will be great deals on homes to be found and the weather is marvelous.
If you look close enough, you will find many positive aspects to this mess we're in. We will have more time to address the issue of water and where to get it. It will give us more time to come up with better energy solutions, too. These are important issues in light of the effects of the drought plaguing the West.
It is disturbing enough to think about Lake Mead drying up, but before that happens, Hoover Dam would lose is capacity to produce energy. That is an entirely different crisis brewing.
Still, unlike the naysayers, I know the Las Vegas economy has not totally derailed in a smoking heap. Sure, we are going to suffer for awhile, and many Nevadans will be out of work. But there will be many more who will rise in the new economy.
Now is the time not only for Las Vegas but all of Nevada to start sketching and molding what it wants to be after this economic meltdown.
Las Vegas doesn't have to be the emptiest place in America. What started out as a dusty watering hole on the Union Pacific Railroad was actually a desert paradise with flowing artesian wells that sustained many settlers passing through by the wagon full. Just as it sustained ancient native Americans with the gift of life in a hostile environment, Las Vegas will continue to provide for those who are willing to brush the dust from themselves and pick up a shovel, hammer, trowel or perhaps dig into the ol' cookie jar, if it isn't already empty, to help in this remodeling of our economy.
Perhaps once we get our train moving again, we should slow down enough to pull up a neighbor. Then, in time, we may be the fullest city in America again.
What's that saying? The community that rebuilds together, prospers together, or something like that.
Tim O’Callaghan, co-publisher of the Home News, can be reached at 990-2656 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He writes a regular column for the Home News.