LAS VEGAS — In this desert town known for gambling and good times, the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health is spurring intense hope for a different kind of economic future.

The once-booming local economy, largely dependent on the hospitality industry, has seen the number of visitors slow in recent years. Construction cranes along the famous Strip sit idle, Las Vegas’ home foreclosure rates are among the nation’s highest, and unemployment hit 13.1 percent in December.

So when the Clinic accepted the brain center as a gift last year and decided to expand the health system’s neurological research and clinical practice there, local leaders immediately began to ask for an even stronger marriage.

Mayor Oscar Goodman, who had been trying to lure the Clinic to Las Vegas for nearly a decade, envisions a medical mecca with the Clinic at the helm. Clinic executives are mulling the idea, reviewing how adding to operations there could enhance its ability to serve patients, grow revenues and elevate its brand.

After frequent get-togethers and positive public dialogue this past year, Goodman describes his current relationship with the health system and its leader Dr. Toby Cosgrove as “a love-fest.”

One Cleveland Clinic executive involved in the discussions characterizes local desire for the health system to expand as “rabid.”

The Clinic beyond Cleveland: The nearly $80 million Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health anchors the south end of the city-owned Symphony Park development and includes medical offices as well as an events hall for fundraising.

The Clinic has a confidential “exclusive negotiating agreement” with the city of Las Vegas’ redevelopment agency to build on an additional 12 acres adjacent to the brain center.

Las Vegas officials say they expect the Clinic’s site plan and development agreement to be submitted to the city by Oct. 1. The Las Vegas City Council could approve a plan by the end of the year.

“Having the western outpost for the Cleveland Clinic, in whatever form it ultimately takes, is huge,” said Rita Brandin, development director of Symphony Park.

In many ways, the brain center and the Clinic’s possible expansion in Las Vegas illustrates the health system’s strategy to grow outside Greater Cleveland.

The project is low-risk on three fronts:

First, the building was a gift and that means the cost was low, with the Clinic only paying for staffing and medical operations. The Clinic’s role in developing and managing a 360-bed hospital in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, echoes this financial strategy, as the hospital slated to open there in late 2012 will be paid for and owned by the government-sponsored Mubadala Healthcare.

Second, the Clinic has been able to leverage the existing expertise of its doctors and staff and expand its neurological operations — a medical specialty that is a growing field, much like cardiovascular medicine was several decades ago.

Finally, because the brain center is part of a planned 61-acre luxury development and was designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, it enhances the Clinic’s branding strategy of “world-class care.”

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