Las Vegas leads trio rolling dice on strong cities makeover

Las Vegas leads trio rolling
dice on strong cities makeover

Vegas, Greensboro, Hartford all competing for prizes as part of federal 'Strong Cities, Strong Communities' competition

by MIKE HRYMAK, with ROB McMANAMY | Jul 16, 2015

From the glitzy 24/7 desert strip to Carolina's Research Triangle and the New England home of the nation's oldest newspaper, teams of community leaders, public officials, and AEC players, both large and small, have been taking up a national challenge to create stronger, more sustainable cities.

Launched in July 2011 by the U.S. Commerce Dept.'s Economic Development Administration, Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) is an ambitious effort "to strengthen neighborhoods, towns, cities, and regions around the country by enhancing the capacity of local governments to develop and execute their economic vision and strategies, providing necessary technical assistance and access to federal agency expertise, and creating new public and private sector partnerships."

In 2012, SC2 picked three U.S. cities for the initial competition: Las Vegas, NV; Greensboro, NC; and Hartford, CT. Last month, the City of Las Vegas awarded a total of $800,000 in cash prizes to six competing teams that had submitted proposals for re-purposing the 483,000-sq-ft, downtown Cashman Field Center. The winners were recommended by a volunteer selection committee made up of leaders from local businesses, civic groups, UNLV, and the city.

The competition was federally funded with a $1-million grant from the USEDA, which was represented at the announcement by Jay Williams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. “The SC2 Visioning Challenge was designed to spark economic development in communities that have faced significant long-term challenges," he explained. 

Robots to the Rescue?  The top cash prize of $500,000 was awarded to “Build a Better Las Vegas,” a local multi-disciplinary team of consultants, developers, UAV enthusiasts, and design-builders that submitted a $150-million proposal to convert the existing, 483,000-sq-ft Cashman Field Center into an Unmanned Aerial & Robotics Resource Center. Members of the winning team included Brandon Wiegand of Focus Commercial GroupZachary Conine and Michael Russell of Joseph Beare & Co., Sallie Doebler of design-builder Korte; and Curt Carlson of SH Architecture

A second place cash prize of $100,000 went to “Strain/Stalk,” a team led by architect Eric Strain and community developer Arnold Stalk. Their plan is to develop a mixed-use Mid-Strip Main Street project. Placing third, but still claiming $75,000 in prizes, was the team led by international design giant Gensler, which proposed making the Cashman Center a geographic hub for sustainability, one that would attract and establish sustainable businesses. See below for Gensler's whiz-bang video.

In all, five teams were awarded cash prizes. All will present their proposals again on Aug. 11 at an all-day meeting of the Urban Land Institute - Nevada


IN CONNECTICUT, The Hartford SC2 competition ended in late May. Hartford.Health.Works beat out five other teams to claim the top prize. It was composed of three companies; Rising-Tide Health Care, and the Hartford-based medical tech group Beacon and Movia Robotics.

Hartford.Health.Works collected its big check in May. 

Hartford.Health.Works collected its big check in May. 

According to the Hartford Courant, the HHW proposal "envisions building on existing strengths in health care technology to create biomedical companies and attract existing ones to the city. The group's efforts could extend into start-ups sharing lab space and expensive equipment, and shaping Hartford into a hub of medical device manufacturing." 

Explained team member and RisingTide founder Mark Borton, "The concept here is that you can't be good at everything," he told the Courant. "There are dozens of incubators and accelerators out there. They are generalized, very broad. We're going narrow and very deep."

For more on the HHW proposal and the rest of the field, click here.


SNAGSHEAD, NC? - Meanwhile, the Greensboro SC2 competition has run into a bit of a snag. Six finalists were announced back in December, and the teams are still competing for $900,000 in total prize money. But the overall winner is not expected to be announced until August.

What gives? Team 'Gig G' (above) and competitors still waiting for next phase. (Image via Yes!Weekly)

What gives? Team 'Gig G' (above) and competitors still waiting for next phase. (Image via Yes!Weekly)

Gig G, a proposal to transform the way businesses and communities in Greensboro operate, was awarded $55,000 in prize money for earning the overall highest overall score from the judges after the first round. However, controversy swept through the competition a week after the finalists were announced when the local YES! Weekly discovered that one of the judges apparently had an undisclosed conflict of interest. For more on the controversy, click here. 

For its part, the city is staying upbeat until the dust settles. Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said on the City's website that, "Thanks to the SC2 Challenge and our six finalists, the City of Greensboro will have a new road map for better leveraging its vast and dynamic array of resources in new ways." 

For more information, visit the Strong Cities, Strong Communities offical website.

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