Acreage inspires museum dreams


Right now it is an empty patch of unremarkable desert between U.S. Highway 95 and the massive Central Christian Church, but the property has some Henderson officials seeing stars.

The 170-acre site is being considered by the city for an air and space museum or a similar science-themed collection.

The idea is still in its infancy -- it hasn't even reached the drawing board yet -- but one Henderson City Council member can hardly contain his enthusiasm.

"I'm more excited about this than any other project in years," said Jack Clark, now in his fourth term on the council. "I think this is going to be the most phenomenal thing Henderson has ever been able to put together."

The goal of the project is one educators and policymakers have been pushing since Sputnik: Keep America competitive by getting children interested in math and science.

"This is an educational opportunity as much as anything else," Clark said. "To really get kids excited about what the outcome of their science education can be, that's where the idea really came from."

It also fills a gap in Henderson's slate of cultural and recreational offerings, said Andrea Primo, director of cultural arts and tourism for Nevada's second-largest city.

"There's a high level of support in the community for a museum. That's an amenity we do not have that many world-class cities do," she said.

It is unclear exactly what sort of museum might materialize at the northern edge of Henderson.

As yet, there are no conceptual drawings or detailed plans about how the city might pay for and operate such an attraction.

A year ago, Henderson hired a consulting firm to study the idea. The consultants are expected to deliver their report to the City Council in early October.

After that, Primo said, an "implementation committee" might be formed to help carry out the consulting firm's recommendations.

"All of this is being done as part of the city's commitment to bringing quality arts programming to our residents," she said.

The consultants are looking at the "best practices" used by museums across the country, both in terms of funding and operation, Primo said.

The site on U.S. 95 near Russell Road appears the most promising because the city already owns the land, she said, but other locations might be considered.

The consulting firm also might recommend against the project altogether, though Primo said she is "not getting that sense" from her conversations with them.

Clark said the idea of building a museum in Henderson is nothing new.

"We first started talking about it about 14 years ago. You know the zooming pace government works at," he said with a laugh.

Late last month, several council members met with staff members and took a backstage tour of the Atomic Testing Museum on Flamingo Road east of Paradise Road.

In June, Clark and council members Andy Hafen and Gerri Schroder took a city-funded trip to Canada to tour several museums in Ontario.

Clark also has checked out museums while on trips he paid for to Florida, Virginia and California.

"It's kind of everybody's idea by now," he said. "I feel like the stars are aligning."

Clark said Henderson originally obtained the property near U.S. 95 and Russell Road in hopes of building a spring training facility for a Major League Baseball team, but that plan never came to pass.

The city isn't looking to turn a profit on the museum. Instead, it is seen as an educational and recreational amenity just "as a park is an amenity for our residents," Primo said.

Clark expects Henderson to design an attraction that will appeal to out-of-town visitors; but it won't be dependent on tourist traffic because "that's not why it's being built."

That sounds like a sensible approach to Anthony Curtis, president of LasVegasAdvisor.com, which advises tourists on local attractions.

"If they target the right audience, it makes sense. Targeting locals and schoolchildren makes sense," he said.

Building a museum 10 miles from the Strip and counting on tourists to support it does not make sense, Curtis said. "We had museums right on the Strip, some of the best museums, and those didn't even make it."

Clark eventually would like to see the city's land transformed into a campus of museums and other attractions, with residential and commercial development on some of the private land nearby.

The site also could house a research and development facility where aspiring inventors could test out their ideas, he said.

Other suggestions for the site include a demonstration garden with an eye toward water conservation and a "house of the future" built with the latest energy-saving technology.

Those ideas should sound familiar to anyone who has visited the Springs Preserve. Two such exhibits are already part of the $235 million museum attraction, which the Las Vegas Valley Water District opened on a similar-sized parcel last year.

But Springs Preserve officials don't sound worried about the potential competition.

"I think there's probably room for all of us," said Jay Nichols, general curator and acting director for the attraction. "We welcome more cultural opportunities in the Las Vegas Valley."

Nichols said it probably would benefit Henderson to avoid duplication and "offer something different" than the Springs Preserve.

He's happy to help with that, too. "I think it would be fun to collaborate," Nichols said.

If done right, Clark said, Henderson's museum project will complement the Springs Preserve, not compete with it.

"I would hope people would want to go to both," he said.

To him, the ideal use of the city's property is something akin to San Diego's Balboa Park, albeit on a much smaller scale. That century-old, 1,200-acre oasis in the heart of California's second-largest city is home to 15 museums and the San Diego Zoo.

Asked when a museum complex like the one he imagines might open, Clark joked, "My hope is while I'm alive."

He thinks it could be done in as little five years, but he acknowledged "that might be a little optimistic."

"I don't envision this as a Henderson project. I see this as a Nevada project," Clark said. "Quite frankly, we're going to need help from other sources and financing from other sources."

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350.

 

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