Blocks from the projects that have drawn outsized attention, Ron Decar has quietly opened his contribution to downtown redevelopment.
On Aug. 10, Decar began handling bookings for the Viva Las Vegas Event Center, into which he has poured close to $4 million. The center, which shares the same block as the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel he also owns, will try to draw locals to a stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard South still bearing the traits that led former Mayor Oscar Goodman to label it Honkytonkville.
None of the independent chapels downtown or near the Strip have added a banquet room, complete with a full bar, a stage with automated curtains, room to seat 300, a catering kitchen and a player grand piano. He hopes couples and their parties will stick around after the “I dos” to celebrate and to watch wedding and life story videos on 90-inch screens.
Should he receive his tavern license from the city on Oct. 8, Decar plans to add preshow buffets and postshow cabaret tied to productions visiting The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, plus a regular Sunday brunch. He said he would add limousine service to the package, to try to create the night-on-the-town experience typical of other cities with live theater.
To get to this point, Decar said he spent more than $1 million gutting and renovating a one-time restaurant that had sat vacant for more than a decade. In the best tradition of renovations, work that he originally thought would take three months, allowing him to open in time for Valentine’s Day, stretched into eight months.
“It was way more than we planned to spend,” he said. “But I wanted to do it right to make sure it works for everyone.”
Decar, who took over the wedding chapel in 1999, planned for several years to have his own banquet room but had never done it for various reasons. As part of settling litigation with the owners of the neighboring Super 8 motel, Decar bought the building and adjacent parking for $2.7 million.
Although he has had only a couple of bookings in the two months after the soft opening — a retailing term that means an owner just opens the doors without any ribbon-cutting, balloons or invited guests — he hopes to pick up momentum in October. Typically, he said, this is the best month of the year for weddings.
A tavern license would pave the way for dates that he hopes will attract entertainers from Las Vegas or touring productions to perform on his stage. Decar sang at several Strip venues for more than two decades, including 14 years at the Follies Bergere. He still sings for some weddings.
Although some neighbors, notably the Super 8, have upgraded their properties in recent years, others have not. However, Decar said neither he nor his staff have ever felt unsafe in the area.
“I think it will be fine for our patrons,” he said.
But building a clientele for a dining and entertainment venue in an area known for other things will take time.
“We may have to work harder at it, but it will work,” he said.
Information about the center is at www.vivalasvegaseventcenter.com.