LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — North Las Vegas officials and the developer of the new “NLV Village” project gathered for a different kind of event Thursday, trading in their usual groundbreaking shovels for sledgehammers.

The heavy equipment came out to take a chunk off the top of the Rec World building as officials and reporters watched, signifying the last chapter of the “Lake Mead island’s” past and embarking on a future that looks very different from anything ever tried before in Southern Nevada. The Rec World building was the focal point today, but NLV Village will cover 19 acres near the intersection of Lake Mead Boulevard and Las Vegas Boulevard North.

A map showing the parcels within a 19-acre redevelopment project in North Las Vegas near Lake Mead Boulevard and Las Vegas Boulevard North. (City of North Las Vegas)

Mayor John Lee and others offered honest assessments as the project begins: “It was ugly down here.” He said the city has been working toward making the project happen for nine years.

But Agora Realty & Management CEO Cary Lefton said they’ve seen it before, and it presents a similar opportunity to the company’s project in Panorama City, California. Plaza del Valle at Van Nuys Boulevard and Chase Street is a thriving retail and grocery center in what used to be an area of high crime and low income. That project is a model for what North Las Vegas is trying to do.

The vision behind NLV Village will combine retail “incubator” spaces mixed with medical office space and public spaces, Lefton said. His company is making a big investment in North Las Vegas. He describes it as “a curated public plaza that will include shopping, restaurants, public space for dancing, watching sporting events and family movies.”

It is expected to be open for business in 24 months at a final cost of $200 million to $250 million. The cost of the site was $35 million.

Councilman Isaac E. Barron took time to point out the lots where businesses once stood in the neighborhood where he grew up. Now, the area is yielding to a future — a new “walkable” community.

But why build there? And why now?

The dirt lots along Lake Mead Boulevard are a long-term play for the city, which has been biding its time as it gained control of the property. The Rec World site was sold to the city and leased back to the business until the project was closer to starting. With a 19-acre site in its pocket, city officials went looking for a developer.

That led them to Plaza del Valle and Agora. When city officials expressed an interest in knowing more about Plaza del Valle, Lefton took notice because the interaction was different. In working with cities before, “they usually have their hand out,” he said. But North Las Vegas was different. Lefton was impressed by officials’ dedication to the community.

“Agora, you’re just the perfect match for the city of North Las Vegas,” Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Goynes-Brown said Thursday. “You welcomed us to California a year ago or so to show us what you do. And that vision just kind of tied into what we were looking for here in North Las Vegas, and it just felt like family because you made us feel that way when we visited you.”

If Las Vegas Boulevard North seems an unlikely place to build, the “urban blight” — Barron’s description — is part of what created the opportunity: affordable land near a busy urban core. And Lefton ticked through some numbers that proved the site was a great place for the project. Businesses in the area have above-average sales figures, outperforming similar businesses in other parts of the valley.

Lefton said his company takes a “mindful approach” to homelessness in the projects it manages.

NLV Village could bring “downtown” North Las Vegas to life. That’s a notion that appeals to Barron, who grew up near the project site and now represents Ward 1 — the home to NLV Village. A bell tower on the site plan bears his name.

A site plan for a section of NLV Village shown Thursday in North Las Vegas. (Greg Haas / 8NewsNow)

Downtown North Las Vegas has a lot of catching up to do after the rest of the city boomed.

“People that look like me — my friends and neighbors — we weren’t sharing in that growth. We weren’t sharing in that prosperity.”

Barron said projects like this are the reason he got into politics. “I wanted to see a renewal for the part of the town that was important to me,” he said. “People that look like me — my friends and neighbors — we weren’t sharing in that growth. We weren’t sharing in that prosperity.”

Barron said NLV Village would be more than a place for people to “buy stuff” or get something to eat. It will be a place for entrepreneurs to come in and start new businesses.