The big white pickup makes a sharp right off East Navajo Street, onto a dusty dirt alley.
Here, just behind the cheap motels of South Nevada Avenue, the chaos of street life dissipates. Cheyenne Run meets Cheyenne Creek, forming a grassy, green peninsula. Big trees root into the lush creekside. An older home and swingset are nestled here. Stone walls partially line the creek, giving it a quaint feel.
"This is one of those deals where it's kind of like a legacy development," developer Mark Morley says.
Morley happily tromps through the grounds. He envisions that one day the peninsula will be parkland, with an outdoor amphitheater that shows movies. On either side of the creek, four- to six-story buildings will rise, with ground-floor retail and lofts above. The stone walls will continue down the creek, and people will stroll on new sidewalks.
Morley and partner Sam Guadagnoli only have a few more properties to buy before they can get started. Morley thinks that two years after they have their key properties, they'll break ground on the project, which possibly will call to mind the Cherry Creek area in Denver.
But there still are a few holdouts. Most notably the Cheyenne Motel.
The developers made an offer on the motel, and went along with a counter-offer that was $100,000 higher. But the Cheyenne's owner countered again, asking for another $100,000. Morley hasn't met that price.
He may not have to. At the urging of City Councilor Jerry Heimlicher, Police Chief Richard Myers is working with City Attorney Pat Kelly to toughen existing ordinances and allow police to more easily hold motel owners and managers responsible for habitual, blatant crime that takes place on their property. If the changes are successful, some motel owners might want to sell their businesses rather than spend all their time and money in court.
It's no secret the changes are aimed at South Nevada's Cheyenne and Chief motels, which together have accounted for approximately 1,000 police calls since 2006 an exorbitant number that Police Detective Olav Chaney says drains the overstretched department. Complaints include a homicide, four shootings, one stabbing, assaults, suicides, domestic disturbances, drug dealing, prostitution, noise and panhandling.
Recently, the focus has been on the Cheyenne, since Morley and Guadagnoli have purchased the Chief and plan to shut it down around September.
Even before ordinance changes, the Cheyenne will be put on notice that inadequate code enforcement compliance, fire safety and, especially, crime prevention, have made it a public nuisance. The motel will be given a chance to come into compliance. If it does not, its operators will face charges in court.
Under current law, the city might find such a case hard to win. But Heimlicher says this is just the first strike in an all-out attack on South Nevada's troubles.
"We're going to end the crime spree in this part of town," he says.
Whole Foods, here?
Ken Brown, who leases and runs the Cheyenne, clearly isn't pleased. He feels he's being harassed by police, and references "the continuous trampling of basic civil rights down here" in an e-mail.
"we [sic] are continually subjected to harassment by the CSPD, specifically Olav Cheney [sic] and his partners, the undercover vice cops," he writes.
Chaney, for his part, says Brown "isn't very happy with us."
"He's anti-cop," Chaney says.
Brown's up against a growing force. With momentum from the South Nevada merchants group, a coalition of concerned business owners, South Nevada and its surrounding areas are on the edge of a massive makeover. At least five developers are scooping up properties with preliminary plans for everything from a Whole Foods to a Lowe's to the Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy's Vanguard School.
One developer even envisions the area as a mirror of Beverly Hills' famed Rodeo Drive.
Three fellows from El Pomar Foundation are working on a plan for the area that will draw together the dreams of various developers and set a strategy for beautification and fighting crime. The plan will include preservation and improvement of many existing businesses. Once the plan is complete, The Broadmoor will lend a financial hand (as many Broadmoor patrons must drive through the unsavory portion of South Nevada). The area will also apply for status as a state enterprise zone and an urban renewal area, which could give business owners and developers access to special tax incentives, low-cost loans and freebies.
It's the type of goody basket that Heimlicher expects will transform South Nevada beyond recognition over the next five years.
But, some ask, what happens to all the law-abiding, low-income people who have made the area's motels into their homes? Heimlicher says he'll work with charities and the city's Housing Authority to come up with a plan to relocate those tenants to nicer, affordable housing even if that means making special accommodations.
"We have to find a way to deal with these people," he says, "so that they don't end up displaced."