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INTRO: The City of Las Vegas recently designated a portion of downtown as an Entertainment District and the first entertainment business opened there last weekend. KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports.
PLASKON: The east end of Freemont street was closed on Friday night. A few unsavory characters common to the area wandered by. It's a seemingly unlikely place for what film producer Gary Sax has just unveiled inside the Take 1 Nightclub and Benedettos Italian Restaurant at 7th and Freemont
SAX: What kind of concept can we come up with that has never been done before and people in Las Vegas as well as elsewhere are really intrigued with. Hollywood, actors, stars and so we created a club concept kind of around that.
PLASKON: Kareoke movie making if-you-will, superimposes a patron pretending to act in their favorite movie. It's then played on a large screen for an audience and each participant walks away with a DVD of their performance at no charge. Sax thinks it will work.
SAX: There are a lot of hams, a lot of hams. This way though people who cant sing now here is their chance to get into acting.
PLASKON: The motor of a spotlight grumbled outside on opening night, its beams swirling in the air. A red carpet led across the parking lot and on it walked Mayor Oscar Goodman inaugurating this first entertainment business to brave the City's new entertainment district.
PLASKON: He's then whisked away, through the plain lounge of fake bamboo chairs and in to a back room painted entirely lime green. The color makes it easier to superimpose him acting in a movie.
GOODMAN: What time do you get off tonight honey?
PLASKON: Looking at a television screen, and with cameras trained on him, Goodman performs movie karaoke.
GOODMAN: Its really funny, a big brute like me playing Mickey Rooney.
PLASKON: And more businesses are moving in.
GOODMAN: Across the street they have a local motel that people would have never dreamed coming into this district. They have banded together we are going to have a Hogs and Heifers, the gay bar, this is just the beginning. This is great.
PLASKON: The special district that attracts this kind of business was the proposal of University of Pennsylvania architecture students. Instructor Susan Schneider says this business fits.
SCHNEIDER: Las Vegas has this underlying identity of its beginnings in the 50's and 60's as a city of the 20th century and a city that was formed by the car and Freemont Street east with its car culture motels and 50's architecture motels and it needs to be brought out now.
PLASKON: Designated in March as an entertainment district, the city encourages entertainment businesses to locate there by allowing bars to open right next to each other, relaxed parking requirements and offering cheaper licensing fees. The tactics work elsewhere as promoters of a similar arts designation a few miles south are claiming success. Over the past two years favorable ordinances for art-related businesses have encouraged more than 30 studios and live-work lofts to draw more than 75 hundred people for the monthly First Friday. Its operators shouldn't feel threatened by the new entertainment district says Goodman.
GOODMAN: I envision the whole area from Charleston over to here. From Maryland to main being a culture district with fun and entertainment and then the other side will have our Manhattanization. It all works. If I were a young person, I would move down here in a New York second If I were an old codger I would move down here in a New York second."
PLASKON: The new businesses are good for downtown but they'll need regular customers says Robert Fielden, an urban planner in Las Vegas.
FIELDEN: The other piece of it is that if you are going to have anybody downtown you have got to find some way to hit those households where their annual income is 50-70 thousand a year.
PLASKON: According to Goodman's office there are about 10-thousand condos proposed or approved where people can live downtown. 1 fifth of those units are in 7 proposed high-rise residential buildings. But much of it is luxury like the 73-story, 960-unit condo building approved last week.
FIELDEN: But its not principally housing for people who live here.
PLASKON: Recent city council discussions mentioned turning city hall into housing as part of negotiations for development of 61 acres downtown. Its not clear how much of that development will be affordable housing for people to live downtown and support businesses in the entertainment and arts districts. The developer called The Related Companies specializes in affordable rentals as well as luxury condos. The 61 acre development plan will be available to the public at the end of next month.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR