Developer realizes potential downtown

CORRECTION -- 06/18/12 -- A story in Saturday’s Business section edition incorrectly identified the items planted in Art Square’s courtyard. Developer Brett Sperry added desert landscaping to the complex.

Over the past two years, the three vacant warehouses at 1025 S. First St. have slowly come back to life.

First, a fresh coat of white paint coated the Arts District buildings' exterior walls. Then, murals from local artists appeared. The complex's first business, Artifice Urban Lounge, opened last year, an anchor of the development now called Art Square.

Art Square is the brainchild of developer, designer and photographer Brett Sperry, who also owns the nearby Brett Wesley Gallery at 1112 S. Casino Center Blvd.

"After doing Artifice, I didn't want to look at these empty buildings for another decade," Sperry said. "I have a sense of civic pride. I want to see downtown grow and be successful. I want to participate in that, help these businesses, encourage them to grow in whatever ways I can."

Sperry has long been a believer in the Arts District, conceiving of his gallery in 2005 and then opening in 2009. As part of a joint venture, he then acquired the buildings at 1025 S. First St., which once housed a laundromat and repair shop before eventually being used for storage.

Sperry tore up the pavement covering the courtyard in the center of the complex and planted fauna around which people can congregate and look at art installations.

He then spent more than $600,000 (though how much more, he isn't sure) renovating the buildings. He constructed walls and added a Mondrian-inspired color-blocking motif, but left relics of exposed beams, brick and iron trusses to create a "bohemian chic" look.

The creative resource and retail center took two years to come to fruition, but the build-out is complete, and tenants are beginning to move in.

Of the 16 spaces in Art Square, only three are vacant, though none is open just yet. Tenants include Mingo Kitchen and Lounge from the owner of World Market Center's Mundo restaurant, Josephine Skaught Salon, Cockroach Theatre and Sperry's own design firm, Brett Wesley Design Group. And, of course, art galleries.

Filmmaker Adan Van Dam was the first tenant to move in with his production company, HypeFactor Films. Van Dam has two other studios downtown but plans to use his Art Square space as "a place where we can showcase our work," he said.

Van Dam is installing vintage move theater chairs and a screen for private showings of his films and work by other directors.

The Cockroach Theatre troupe also is moving into its Art Square home, helped by donations on crowdfunding site The theater's team, which includes president Will Adamson and managing director Levi Fackrell, raised more than $20,000 to fund the venue.

"I feel that we as a community, we need more resources. We need more aggregation of people who are doing really great creative things," Sperry said.

Sperry expects most of Art Square's tenants to open their doors this summer, but don't expect a big grand opening soiree. He would prefer a series of cocktail parties to celebrate each business as it opens.

Art Square also will complement the creative businesses that have long been open at the adjacent Arts Factory, said urban historian and blogger Brian "Paco" Alvarez. And, like the Arts Factory, Art Square is a sustainable building, he added.

"It's a great adaptive reuse of an old building," Alvarez said. "Old buildings in Las Vegas don't necessarily have to be torn down. They can be repurposed."

Repurposing old, vacant buildings for new businesses will draw more foot traffic and contribute to the ongoing redevelopment of Main Street, which cuts right through the Arts District.

"Las Vegas is embracing its Main Street for the first time in history," Alvarez said.

What was once a stretch of car repair shops and motels is becoming home to vintage stores, design firms, updated casinos and the shiny new City Hall.

Contact reporter Caitlin McGarry at cmcgarry@review or 702-387-5273.