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?