By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
With Harry Reid International Airport nearing capacity and the unanimous passage of Senate Bill 19 in the Legislature, the stage is set for the Clark County Commission to allow construction of a new town south of Las Vegas, designed as the home of a second major airport for Las Vegas.
Although planning for a second airport in the Ivanpah Valley goes back more than 20 years, it has recently been infused with a sense of urgency because of the growing air traffic situation at Reid International, business leaders said on Nevada Newsmakers recently.
“Reid airport now is overflowed,” Mary Lau, CEO of the Retail Association of Nevada, told host Sam Shad. “It can’t take on anymore. The timing (for a second airport) is right.”
Reid International is expected reach its annual passenger capacity of 63 million to 65 million passengers as early as this year, which could lead to possible flight delays for travelers, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
In, 2022, Reid International set a record, welcoming more than 52.6 million passengers, according to the Nevada Independent.
Ivanpah would relieve that pressure by taking all cargo traffic and some passenger traffic away from Reid International. With an airport focused to cargo, the Ivanpah location would be poised to become a shipping, warehouse and logistics center for the Southwestern United States, helping diversify the resort-dependent economy of the Las Vegas area.
“That airport is going to grow the entire state,” Lau said.
The need for a second airport, however, has yet to catch on with the majority of Nevada voters, according to a poll sponsored by Nevada Newsmakers and conducted by Vote TXT during the week of May 15.
More than 37 percent of those 412 Nevada voters polled said they were unsure how they felt about the need of a second airport for Las Vegas, with 33.5 saying they disapproved while 29.2 saying they were in favor of the new airport.
Yet air traffic delays at Reid International could help the public lean toward getting a second airport built, said Russell Rowe, managing principal of the Rowe Law Group.
“Harry Reid International airport is experiencing some of the strains of congestion, and part of that is because one of the runways has been under construction and causing delays,” Rowe said. “But that experience is really motivating folks because they see what is happening when so many airlines are delayed coming into the valley.”
Ivanpah is ideally situated to become a distribution hub for the Southwest, said Paul Enos, CEO of the Nevada Trucking Association. From Ivanpah, you could truck freight to anywhere in the Southwestern U.S. in one day.
“For air and truck transportation, I think it is phenomenal,” said Enos, in his 18th year as the NTA CEO. “If you look at where Las Vegas is located, with 25 million people within a day’s drive, I think it can be a beautiful thing for us.”
Many carriers would probably prefer to land at Ivanpah rather than a California destination because of the logistics and less-expensive operating costs in Nevada, Enos said.
“I think is gives Nevada a tremendous opportunity to move forward in a direction to take advantage of the eighth-largest economy in the world (California) being right next door to us and moving some of that activity here,” Enos said.
Some see the second airport as a driver of economic expansion that can stretch down to Jean and Primm, south of Las Vegas, almost to the California border.
“So Ivanpah can be a key to that,” Rowe said. “It is going to allow for expansion of the resort industry but also allow the diversification of the economy in that whole area south of Las Vegas, all the way down to Jean and Primm.”
Moves to make the Ivanpah area a center for logistics, distribution and warehousing are already underway. Reno developer Par Tolles is purchasing a 140-acre parcel in Jean — including a shuttered hotel-casino — and will turn it into a $1.9 million warehouse and distribution center.
Tolles’ planned development is 34 miles from the Las Vegas Strip and 13 miles from the border with California. It has built-in infrastructure from the old Gold Strike hotel-casino and the potential to become an ideal spot for shipping, receiving, manufacturing and storing products and cargo of all kinds.
“We think we’ve got a tiger by the tail,” Tolles said on Nevada Newsmakers recently.
Added Rowe: “What the Tolles family is doing in Jean is going to be critical and there’s real opportunity in Southern Nevada to make something of that, something that diversifies the economy and we hope that is what will happen for the next 20 years.”
Added congestion on I-15 could be alleviate by Brightline’s planned high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to Las Vegas with a possible stop to pick up and drop off passengers and cargo at the Ivanpah airport.
Brightline is expected to break ground on the project later this year and have it completed in time for the 2008 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The development of the area could spark a land grab for property along I-15 south of Las Vegas because the town surrounding the airport will be built before the airport, Lau said.
“That’s kind of the way it is set up and they are building the town first,” she said. “It’s a build-it-and-they-will-come” thing because you are not going to be able to have people commuting every single day to come down and pound nails and pour concrete. So you do have to have a place for people to eat, work, live and retail, got to have retail.”
Problems will be avoided by building the town before the airport, Lau said.
“I have every faith that they are going to do Ivanpah correctly and start with the infrastructure and the last thing to be built will be the buildings around where the planes are going to fly,” Lau said.
The Ivanpah airport may prove similar to the Denver International Airport — which is 25 miles from downtown Denver — for the impact it will have on economic development, Lau said.
“It is unimaginable how awesome it is going to be because when you look at what has gone on in Denver, Denver is in another state (i.e. a long way) from that airport but it has built up around it,” Lau said. “It has helped the community as a whole.”
The Legislature first approved the purchase of the land for a second airport for Las Vegas back in 2000. Yet passion for the project waned during subsequent recessions because of more pressing problems. Enos praised legislative leaders — especially two former Democratic Speakers of the Assembly — for keeping the project alive.
“I have to give some credit to people like Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Barbara Buckley, who, in the depths of the recession back in 2008 and 2009, were looking at ways to grow and diversify Nevada’s economy,” Enos said.
“This is something they were talking about then,” Enos added. “These things are not easy to put together. Government can only go so far. You need private sector investment, you need that nimbleness, that innovation to come in and say, ‘Hey we’re going to make this work.’ ”