Las Vegas Deputy City Manager Scott Adams engaged audience at the Oct SPDC Industry Seminar Series

The MSU School of Planning, Design and Construction (SPDC) held its ninth Industry Seminar Series event on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016, in East Lansing.

Scott Adams, deputy city manager for the City of Las Vegas, and Urban Planning alumnus


Highlights strength of a MSU Urban Planning degree

The MSU School of Planning, Design and Construction (SPDC) held its ninth Industry Seminar Series event on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016, in East Lansing. Featured speaker Scott Adams, deputy city manager for the City of Las Vegas, and a MSU urban planning alumnus (1977), presented on “MSU, Urban Planning and Cities: A Career Perspective.” Professor Mark Wilson, program leader for the MSU Urban & Regional Planning Program, was the facilitator for this event. The series continues to be popular with local alumni and industry leaders, and helps to show SPDC students real-world examples of what is possible to achieve upon graduation.

In his role for the City of Las Vegas, Adams oversees the departments of Economic and Urban Development, Community Services, Cultural Affairs, and Parks and Recreation. He also serves as the operations officer for the Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency. Adams is a certified manager with the International City Managers Association; a member of the International Economic Development Council and the Urban Land Institute; and a past member of the American Institute of Certified Planners.

Adams began his presentation by sharing how his uncle, also a fellow MSU Urban Planning alumnus, helped to influence his decision to pursue a degree in this field. He said, “A planning degree can be versatile with a need for strong vision and planning.”

He discussed in-depth several of the jobs he’s had over the last 39 years, which all involved extensive planning work that drew from his education. Adams also emphasized the fact that all the MSU planning graduates he’s hired have all had a strong foundation in the discipline, which has served him and the City of Las Vegas well.

Adams’ first planning job was in his hometown of Jackson, MI, where he worked as a transportation planner for six months. He also worked on a project to help take out a downtown mall and put a street back in place. It also included work in downtown redevelopment, which he discovered is where his passion lies.

His next job took him to Memphis, TN, where he held two positions (manager of planning and public services, and assistant director). He worked on public infrastructure, including an entertainment district project on Beale Street. He also led development of the City’s Downtown Master Plan, which drove investment for decades and engaged the community.

Then, Adams made his way to Jacksonville, FL, where he was deputy director and director of the Downtown Development Authority. Here he was involved in waterfront and transit development projects, and helped create a Downtown Master Plan. One of his achievements was that he laid the foundation for major development agreements to incorporate transit systems, which paved the way for the downtown transit system.

“When you really engage in a city like this, if engaged the right way, there is a legacy that you can leave as a planner that makes a city a better place,” he said.

His next job move was to Norfolk, VA, which wasn’t a great opportunity for him. His advice to students was to “think very clearly about your direction in life.”

Next, Adams went to New Orleans, LA, where he held two jobs in the ‘90s. During his time as executive director of the New Orleans Regional Medical Center, he was involved in developing a plan for a robust medical district. He was challenged to expand and grow the district in a dense, urban environment. At the time, expansion was blocked by a neighborhood, as the plan couldn’t avoid expansion that would impact them in a way they would support. But, after he left, Katrina hit and the neighborhood was wiped out, which enabled the plan to move forward without resistance.

Another influential job for Adams was as director of planning and economic development in Fort Lauderdale, FL, where he was involved in beach and downtown redevelopment projects that resulted in explosive growth for the City. He helped update the Downtown Master Plan, including design guidelines for people in a harsh summer climate, and an agreement was reached with the development community to create a “cooling city.”

The City decided to redevelop their beach district, and change its reputation as a student holiday destination. So, they got rid of “Spring Break” and over the next 10 years gradually invested in beach redevelopment. Additionally, while he was there they implemented a short-term moratorium on beach development to allow them to draft new development guidelines, as they were losing valuable views and sunshine for tourists due to high-rise buildings literally blocking the sun on the beach. This was a big risk for the City that required them to be “very patient and have strong civic leadership,” and wait 10 years for the return on their investment via new taxes, which paid off! 

The last career move Adams highlighted was from Las Vegas, where he’s on his third job for the City. He described it as the best place he’s ever lived. And, he was quick to point out that his work has nothing to do with “The Strip.” Adams outlined how the City wants to diversify and completed a new Downtown Master Plan that embraces a vision to enable Vegas to reposition itself as a traditional city center and attract new talent, instead of perpetuating its national image.

Next year, he said that the City will be 100% powered by renewable energy with many new, sustainable buildings that feature solar power. Adams also talked about the Master Plan for a medical district he helped develop. With fast-paced development the School of Medicine was able to open their doors just three years after the idea was proposed. He also described Las Vegas as an “Entrepreneurial City,” as they are taking on the role of developer and entering into individual development agreements.

Another piece of advice he had for students was to make cities people-friendly. “You don’t need bike lanes on every street,” he said. Instead, Adams focused on the need to strategize.

Finally, Adams ended with some lessons he’s learned over the years.

  • For career advancement, sometimes you have to move out to move up.
  • An MSU planning degree supports a variety of city work and is a very good foundation.
  • Don’t be afraid to think big . . . after all you are a planner!
  • Seeing the results of work in facilitating community change is very fulfilling.
  • Great planning seeks to create high-quality urban development and great cities.
  • Focus on opportunistic planning vs. regulatory planning.
  • Stick to basic planning principles.

Learn more about these events at SPDC Industry Speaker Series


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