Swenson Street, a longtime gateway to UNLV for area residents and millions of annual visitors, received a new name with a more collegiate feel on Tuesday, as it was officially unveiled as University Center Drive.
The new name reflects a four-year effort by alumni, students, and community members to more directly connect the university with the community, and create a stronger tie to UNLV for the more than 40 million visitors who travel to Southern Nevada each year.
“We stand here today because several passionate people set out to make something positive happen for UNLV,” UNLV President Marta Meana said during the sign’s unveiling. “I feel like I could start a hundred different stories with that sentence, recognizing what we could not have achieved without the collaboration and support of others.”
Alumnus Chip Johnson and community leader Joel Laub began the effort to rename Swenson Street in 2015. They wanted to help create a more definitive entrance to the university on the west side of the campus, particularly at the intersection of Tropicana and Swenson, where the Thomas & Mack Center is one of the first visible landmarks for visitors exiting McCarran International Airport.
Students in the Lee Business School worked with Johnson and Laub on the project, and collaborated with local agencies to develop a comprehensive plan including outreach to community groups, businesses, and residents along the corridor.
Brandon Bragg, then a business marketing major and a member of the American Marketing Association at UNLV, was a student lead on the project. He recalled meeting with county commissioners and local business owners to get their buy-in and generate ideas for potential street names. He also walked along the corridor to document the number of signs that would need to be rebranded in UNLV's image.
"It was a lot of work," Bragg said. "It started in 2015, and now it’s coming to fruition in 2019. A lot of people were part of this project and I thought we did really well on it."
UNLV Special Collections & Archives also joined the effort. They identified early maps that showed Swenson as a one-block street at the perimeter of the Paradise Gardens subdivision developed by Wilbur Clark. Clark named all streets after family and friends, but they were unable to track down anyone named Swenson.
“Research, focus groups, and outreach by our students, faculty, and staff brought us to this momentous day,” Meana said. “I hope you are filled with pride each time you see ‘University Center Drive’ emblazoned on signs along this entire street. Because of you, millions of visitors will leave the airport and recognize they have arrived on our doorstep.”
The newly named University Center Drive corridor runs from E. Hacienda Avenue (near McCarran International Airport) to Desert Inn Road. The Paradise Town Board and Clark County Planning Commission unanimously approved the change in 2018, with final signage updates expected to be completed by the end of 2019.
Clark County Commissioner Jim Gibson said the new signage more aptly announces the university to the rest of the community, and is an outward expression of how integral UNLV is to Clark County.
"A university needs to be ‘so much’ in a community," Gibson said. "Not so much more, it just needs to be ‘so much.’ And I’m not sure how you measure what the good is that can be done by a university, but first and foremost we need it to lead us, and to strengthen the things that we do."
On Tuesday, at the corner of UNLV's Intramural Field, one of the signs made its debut as Meana, Gibson, Bragg, and others involved in the project, revealed the new name that was hidden beneath a UNLV-branded banner.
"It was really cool to pull the banner down," Bragg said. "Overall, it's been an amazing experience."