Should the city spend a million dollars to help reopen the Huntridge Theater? That was the topic of discussion yesterday at the Las Vegas Centennial Grant Commission meeting.
Short verz: The City of Las Vegas asked the Centennial Grant Commission for $1 million to launch into a public-private partnership with Huntridge Revival LLC, the company that’s trying to buy the property. After gales of discussion — can we legally do this? is it too risky? is this historic preservation or a speculative real-estate venture? — the commission voted to wrestle with it again at its 3p May 19 meeting.
(Disclosure: I wasn’t originally there as a journalist. I was there to ask the commission for a $14,000 grant to fund a series of history pieces in Desert Companion. We got the grant. But then, like, this news happened.)
Longish version: As Huntridge Revival LLC principals Joey Vanas and Michael Cornthwaite told it at the meeting, sure, the Huntridge is a richly storied building, a nostalgic touchstone in a fickle, protean city, a handsome architectural heirloom in a historic neighborhood — boon truths borne out by its successful IndieGogo campaign — but yeah, try selling that story to private investors. Those private investors they’ve been courting to pony up an estimated $6 to $8 million to rehab, revive and poshify the theater, they say, are skeptical about the ROI — oh, and a looming lawsuit is souring their stomachs as well. In February, the state sued the theater’s current owners, the Mizrachi family, for letting the building sag and crumble — breaking the contract that came with state grants. The state says: Give us our $1.3 million back.
Enter the million-dollar maybe. The reasoning goes that, in this storm of uncertainty, the city’s million-dollar investment would be like a golden anchor: It would signal to the state that Hey, everything’s cool here, so, uh, maybe you can chill on that lawsuit? It would tell investors skittishly toeing the sidelines, Come on in — it’s safe to play! No legal headaches here! And it would give Huntridge Revival LLC some muscle and momentum in closing the deal with the Mizrachis. As the deputy city attorney city redevelopment agency representative making the pitch explained it, the city would use the million to purchase hand-carved archipelagos of the corner parcel that give them access to and control of the theater. Or, as commission Member Bob Coffin said, “If you own the hole, you own the donut.”
The complications: Hemming and hand-wringing! Tense questioning! Some commission members were nervous about the plan. Commission Member Ricki Barlow agreed with the idea in spirit, but questioned the mechanism: Was a complex land purchase really the best way to use grant funds intended for historic preservation? Why not be prudent and patient, and consider injecting the money directly into restoring the physical theater when the time was right? He questioned whether the commission could even dole out that amount of money, citing a $100,000 cap on Centennial Commission grants, and a rule against grants going toward the purchase a historic building. Member Bob Stoldal wondered aloud about worst cases: What would happen if the city bought the land, but the sale of theater fizzled — would the city be stuck with some tasty strips of crumbling asphalt with a dead theater on top? Member Bob Coffin remained bullish on the city-LLC partnership, saying this may be the theater’s last chance to live again. There were a lot of Don’t get me wrongs and I want to save the Huntridge, buts ... — an appreciation of the intent and spirit of the proposal, but deep anxiety about the bolts and gears.
They’ll take it up again 3p May 19 on the second floor of City Hall, in the City Clerk conference room.
Correction: A city redevelopment agency officer represented the city at the meeting, not a deputy city attorney.