The Huntridge Just Became a Millionaire. What’s Next?

Illustration by Jon Estrada

Illustration by Jon Estrada

On May 19, after a long and contentious session in the chambers of City Hall, the Las Vegas City Council agreed to give $1 million from the City’s Centennial Fund—a historic preservation fund, drawn from the sale of vanity license plates—to Huntridge Revival LLC, the local partnership that’s trying to purchase and renovate the historic structure. The City’s share will buy them a physical piece of the property in whatever deal Revival partners Joey Vanas and Michael Cornthwaite end up making—an investment which could buy the City anything from the land under the building to the building itself, depending on how the deal is structured.

Those details are being hammered out right now, and include getting the state to settle a lawsuit against the current owners of the Huntridge, dealing with several Clark County liens on the property, and securing local historic status for the building. (The last is a necessary formality: Currently, the Huntridge is on the National Register of Historic Places, but that designation doesn’t seem to hold much weight at the local level. Getting such status, it was suggested, might make it easier to get those liens dismissed.)

Now, when I say “contentious,” I mean that I had very real doubts this deal would be approved. Councilman Ricki Barlow (Ward 5) asked point-blank why more of this necessary title-cleaning—the dismissal of the lawsuit and liens, etc.—wasn’t done before this point. Bob Stoldal of the Historic Preservation Commission peppered Huntridge Revival LLC with hard questions, asking what happens if they fail to purchase the theater (he was assured that the city’s money would be protected, one way or another) and wondering aloud why Huntridge Revival LLC isn’t a nonprofit. (For the sake of expediency, said Revival partner Vanas: He told the council that the nonprofit status for First Friday, which Vanas also runs, just came through after many months of waiting.) And Mayor Carolyn Goodman simply asked point-blank, why we don’t get Tony Hsieh to pay for this?

Vanas and Cornthwaite were forthcoming and genuine in their remarks; they really seem committed to making this thing work just to save the building for future generations. (“You won’t be able to retire on the money you make from the Huntridge,” said Stoldal.) They said that they’re willing to change Huntridge Revival to a nonprofit entity, and Vanas even said “We don’t care if (the city) owns the building.” But in the end, it wasn’t their unassuming manner that won the day. It was the bleeding hearts, flamethrowers and pie-eyed idealists who stepped up to the microphone for the public comment section of the debate … those people I’m proud to call my neighbors.

Graham Kahr told the council that the first time he told the woman who would become his wife “I love you” was inside the Huntridge. His mother, Kathleen Kahr D’Esposito, spoke of the restorative power of adaptive reuse and cried a bit. And Blackbird Studios’ Gina Quaranto (who I never, ever want to cross) said that Tony Hsieh is not the city’s “cash cow,” and that the city needs to step up.

“We voted for you. You work for us,” she said.

To my mind, the neighborhood pushed this one over the finish line. The city made a decision that was directly based on the passions of its people, and it was an inspiring thing to witness. I left the meeting feeling tremendously proud of Downtown Las Vegas. We can bring it when we want to. I kinda wish we wanted to do that more often, but let’s just enjoy the moment for as long as we can. The will of the people is what keeps the Huntridge standing, and it has done so for as long as I can remember.

That said, I agree with those who, in the light of day, are wondering if this longshot is worth laying money on. That lawsuit and those liens are only the beginning of the obstacle course; once they’re cleared and the property is purchased, Revival LLC has to bring the 70-year-old property out of limbo. Asbestos needs to be cleared away, wheelchair ramps built, seating restored (the Huntridge no longer has chairs, or even the gradual downward slope they once sat on). And then, it has to make its way in a town that’s now well-served with with concert venues, movie theaters and performing arts venues. Every single step the Huntridge needs to take, for the rest of its life, will likely be an uphill step.

For the moment, however, we should celebrate. We just threw another barrier between the bulldozers and one of the few historic structures still standing in this town, and that’s a win no matter how you look at it. The Huntridge Theater will live. Our next challenge is figuring out, what’s next? What will become of the Huntridge now, and will we have a say in it?

  • flagger

    Can anyone really explain why we need to save or preserve this building? Apart from memories.

    So now the city is a million bucks committed, what if they need another million or two? How much does the city keep sinking in to this project? They have already had a huge fundraiser, when does the sinkhole of cash end?

    • Kathleen Kahr

      This is one of 10 designated historic buildings in Las Vegas. The first desegregated movie theater in Las Vegas as well. There’s a lot of merit to preserving historic buildings.Factual study supports that the preservation of buildings like this will add needed economic stability to that particular area of the city. These preservation projects quite often are not big money makers, but do add to the quality of life for the community. Imagine a city with no libraries, museums, theaters, etc. It’s quite possible that much more will be needed before it’s finished, but I have to point to the Mob Museum as an example of a lot of money well spent on a preservation project. I hope you will think of it more in terms of an investment. The City will own the land for 1 million, and it’s appraised value exceeds that by several million. Pretty good deal.

      • tylerzambori

        First you say that the preservation of the Huntridge will add needed economic stability, but then you say that “These preservation projects quite often are not big money makers, but do add to the quality of life for the community.”

        Which is it?

        Exactly who is it a good deal for? You and your friends?

        Most Sincerely,

        “The same old Trash”

        • Kathleen Kahr

          Economic stability in the form of jobs during the renovation and jobs afterwards. Stability for a major intersection of the city that is home to tons of mom and pop business. Stability in housing prices for the surrounding area. Less blight, and safer walkability. Quality of life in terms of a theater or music hall, or other programming. Redevelopment tax dollars get spent in the same area, for example all of the new playground equipment at Huntridge Circle Park was paid for with redevelopment taxes. So it’s both. It’s a good deal for the city as they will own valuable property at a portion of what it would normally be due to the public – private partnership being formed. And it’s good for my NEIGHBORHOOD! They will still need another $14 million to renovate the theater. The money being granted by the city is not to be used for renovation, but to purchase the land. Take as many shots at me as you like, but Geoff has attended the Centennial Commission meetings and done his homework. You could’ve gained some insight by just googling how preservation helps the economy. Hopefully, I’ve answered all your queries and then some. It would be really good if you put your energy into something more positive.

          • tylerzambori

            Thank you Kathleen for that rousing list of the benefits of historic preservation. But if you look at it logically, saying that these projects are often not big money makers would seem to completely contradict the idea that such a project, such as the Huntridge Theater, will necessarily have such tremendous economic benefits for the surrounding neighborhood. Unless it is a charity with a lot of money behind it, of course.

            Is it a charity?

            Thank you for your invitation to make unfounded criticisms, but I prefer to stick with issues and questions that do have some basis to them, as I’ve always done.

            I’m glad that Goeff has done his homework, as you say. I wish he could been a little more hard-hitting about it, and a little less of a shill. I would have liked to know a little more about these so-called “hard questions” about the Huntridge Revival not becoming a non-profit before now. We’ve all been over all the excuses that were made last summer, and we all saw that the excuses were not valid ones. And even after all this time, you folks have still not even tried to get non-profit status?

            What are you playing at?

            So here’s something interesting:

            http://www.skidmore.edu/~bturner/ED%20Student%20Web%20Files/dlapenas5.html

            Here are some interesting points from that article:

            1. According to advocates, historic preservation has aided in local economic and community revitalization, increased tourism and employment, and preserved regional history,
            culture, and pride.

            2. However, historic preservation has often lacked public support due to a negative reputation.

            3. Some see it, not as a means to revitalizing local communities, but rather, as simply driving the problems further under the surface or into other areas, namely, as a means to gentrification.

            4. This reputation is not entirely unfounded, as there have been instances when gentrification was exactly the intended goal.

            5. There is a fundamental dichotomy and tension within economic development policies in general, and specifically with historic preservation, between the need to bring in wealthy residents and new businesses and the likelihood that it will drive out or alienate low to moderate-income local residents.

            6. The only way to have truly sustainable economic development and not simply economic growth at the expense of local community and quality of life issues is to find a balance between this dichotomy and accommodate all members of a community.

            7. This can potentially lead to significant divisions between different economic classes, races, and other groups within communities as some residents begin to view building and renovation regulations as limiting or beyond their financial means

            8. It seems that there needs to be a compromise and balance in government priorities between preserving buildings to boost the economy through tourism, and preserving the livelihoods, well-being, and true local history and culture.

            9. In utilizing historic preservation in economic development and urban revitalization, it is extremely important to do specific planning and consideration before any projects
            are presented to the public.

            You, Kathleen, are the type that would like to drive the problems further under the surface or into other areas.
            You have already proven it with your desire to purge Huntridge Park of the homeless by getting the cops and/or security to chase them out.

            So how does that really help the local community, without doing the planning and consideration as mentioned in #9?
            How are you going to accommodate all the members of the community, or have you even thought of that? I don’t think you have.

          • tylerzambori

            So here’s one more important point from the article:

            10. Examples such as these demonstrate that historic
            preservation is often only beneficial to those who know how to play the game and who will apply and can qualify for specific grants.

            Gee that sure is skeptical, isn’t it? It remains to be seen how well it applies to the current group of people behind the Huntridge revival. But given their tendency to not answer questions, and to exhibit condescension to those who ask those uncomfortable questions, #10 does not seem so far-fetched.

    • Graham Kahr

      Not to pile on but in this case the city is basically taking ownership of a $4+ million property for a $1mil investment. It’s a pretty sound business decision. A $250,000 fundraiser helped move the ball to this stage, the $1 million for the city with move it further, now for private investors to come in.

      It’s a process that isn’t easy to understand, but this by all means was a good call by the city. I would even argue that it will go down as one of the best decisions these volunteers (the committee isn’t an elected committee) have made. Allocating historic preservation funds to the city’s first desegregated movie theater that also happens to be in the most historic neighborhood is doing exactly what this commission was tasked with doing. The $1mil comes from the 100,000+ people that purchase the centennial license plate each year and the woman who came up with the idea in the first place was on the committee, voting unanimously with the other members.

    • tylerzambori

      Yeah, and what happened to the idea that they will need 14 million dollars to renovate it? Gee, maybe they didn’t really need that much!

  • DowntownSteve

    Think saving The Huntridge Theater is a waste of time and money? Think again. Multiple examples of living, breathing, financially sustainable restored historic theaters in cities large and small–coast to coast. Yeah, there is a market for this sort of thing. http://www.thewoodward.org/index.php/economic-impact/case-studies/23-case-studies-on-impact-of-historical-theatres

  • tylerzambori

    I have serious doubts about the people behind the Huntridge Revival LLC. So they’re willing to go non-profit? Why doesn’t the city demand this before forking over a cool million? Considering what happened with the last owner, what guarantee is there that the money will in fact be used to renovate the theater? There is none, that I can see.

    I do wish that Geoff Carter would be a little more pointed in his so-called “investigative journalism.”

    • Kathleen Kahr

      If you think I’ll feel ashamed or apologize for running stolen grocery carts out of a neighborhood park – you’re barking up the wrong tree. The Huntridge neighborhood is never going to let Huntridge Park revert to what it was before being shut down. We’re all working together to keep it a nice place for everyone, regardless of social status. Love your profile pic, btw.

      • tylerzambori

        You put your answer in the wrong spot, just so you know.

        You have publicly stated that you want to run the homeless themselves out of the park. So you want it to be a nice place for everyone that counts, but especially not the homeless, right? Nice attempt at subterfuge.

        So what are you Huntridge Revival people planning to do to find a balance between this dichotomy (as discussed in #6) and accommodate all members of a community? Nothing, I take it?

  • Pingback: City of Las Vegas Centennial Commission Votes In Favor of Granting $1 Million to Huntridge Theatre Acquisition ‹ The Huntridge Foundation()

  • Yolanda Michucha

    How does everyone miss that the decisionmaker here was not the Las Vegas City Council?

    • tylerzambori

      “On May 19, after a long and contentious session in the chambers of City Hall, the Las Vegas City Council agreed to give $1 million from the City’s Centennial Fund”

  • Sam J

    Guys u must chkout http://www.theBillionairesBrain.com, u’ll like this..I wish I found this years back..

  • Pingback: Las Vegas Isn’t Struggling, It’s Transforming … and We Get to Help It Happen | Vegas Seven()

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