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Springs Preserve a benefit and a burden for Las Vegas

Reported by: Gerard Ramalho
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Updated: 5/01/2014 2:19 pm
LAS VEGAS (KSNV & MyNews3) -- The Springs Preserve, a 180-acre site with trails, botanical gardens and public meeting spaces on a stretch of land near the Meadows Mall, just south of US 95, has been open for six years.

Former Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager Pat Mulroy envisioned The Spring Reserve as a public space for Las Vegans.

Much of it was designed to teach visitors about environmental sustainability in the midst of the Mojave Desert.

On any given school-day, busloads of children arrive for field trips, to learn about water conservation, plant life, and Las Vegas history. Mulroy believes it’s been a hit, a centerpiece in a valley that lacks open spaces.

“I see it as a huge success in making Las Vegas the community that we always knew we were,” says Mulroy, who recently retired from SNWA.

But The Springs Preserve has its critics; it has a hefty debt - more than $100 million - and an average annual operating loss of $5 million. The annual cost to maintain and operate all 100-plus Clark County public parks is $20 million.

“I think it was really ill-conceived,” says Rob Mrowka, who was Clark County’s Environmental Planning Director when the project was designed. “Nobody ever gave thought of how are we going to make it commercially viable?”

Annual visitation has leveled off in recent years to slightly more than 250,000, with locals paying $10 to enter and tourists paying $20.

Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak is among those concerned about the ongoing expense, characterizing it as a community gift -- “a nice gift, but you’ve got to feed it.”

That nourishment, in part, comes from a slight rate increase to regional water customers. The park’s seasonal income is also generated by a mix of events that include weddings, but Sisolak says there’s another problem associated with such events.

“We’re competing with the private sector that also has wedding chapels, and it’s not fair when we use a government entity and their resources and compete with the private sector,” he says.

Other money-making ideas have been floated, including the transformation of The Preserve into a theme park or a zoo, but opponents say such a move would violate the intent of developing the site. Plus, it would require more money to alter the setting.

Mrowka, the former county environmental director, has his own idea: “It needs to be sold or transferred,” he says. “I don’t know if you could sell it, but it might even be worth it just to turn it over to a non-profit organization for management under a private-public partnership.”

Meantime, Mulroy remains confident that The Springs Preserve will increasingly become a part of life in Southern Nevada, reducing its annual expenses.

“I think 20 years from now people will have embraced The Preserve just like New Yorkers have embraced Central Park . . . and won’t be able to imagine the community with it not being there,” she says.



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