Fremont Street evicts black history festival


Las Vegas Taste & Sounds of Soul, the annual Black History Month festival that is scheduled to celebrate its 10th anniversary next month, has been evicted by the Fremont Street Experience. The event was denied a permit to locate in the business district where it started. Instead, it will be at the Edmond Town Center, at 1021 W. Owens Ave., Feb. 25-27.

At issue is whether the festival -- featuring African-American entertainment and food and merchandise vendors -- drew enough of its own attendees.

"I can put anything out on the street that can sustain off of the customer base that's already here," Fremont Street Experience President Jeff Victor said.

Festival organizers disagree, saying that Taste & Sounds of Soul -- which is produced with KTNV-TV, Channel 13 -- attracted 15,000 to 20,000 of its own visitors to the flashing canopy every year.

"Not only are you telling the locals that you don't value their contributions, you're also saying that the people who are booking their trips and hotel rooms are not bringing enough value to their properties to even warrant having this type of celebration," said Charles Tureaud, who founded the festival with his wife, Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud, in 2001. The Tureauds are co-publishers of Black Image magazine, along with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Ward 5 Councilman Ricki Barlow fully supports the Tureauds, if not their math. He estimated that the festival drew "hundreds, if not thousands" of its own patrons.

"It attracts people into downtown to spend money," Barlow said. "And I believe it brings another level of culture and diversity to downtown that it currently lacks."

According to Victor, Fremont Street Experience businesses, assisted by various subsidy programs, have footed most of the staging costs over the years in the hopes that the festival could one day sustain itself.

"After nine years of trying it, the funding that was there to support those things has dried up," he said.

This year, Victor said, the Tureauds were asked to absorb 10 percent of the Fremont Street Experience's costs, but refused to sign a contract. The Tureauds dispute this claim, stating that they successfully negotiated a contract that was delivered to them with incorrect dates. When they sent it back, they say, they were promised a new one that never arrived.

Earlier this month, the couple received an e-mail from a Fremont Street Experience executive explaining the permit was being denied.

"I think it's a sad testimony, not only just for black people, but to Nevada as a whole," said Bailey-Tureaud, noting that Black History Month serves to expose African-American culture to the mainstream.

"It's ironic," she said. "It's sad."

Kim Pedersen, marketing director for Fitzgeralds -- which sponsored the festival since its inception but withdrew that sponsorship last year -- called Las Vegas Taste & Sounds of Soul a "wonderful community affair."

"If the event drove incremental business, you bet we'd have them down here," Pedersen said. "But it just doesn't make sense financially."

"We wish that economic times were different."

Contact reporter Corey Levitan at clevitan@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0456.

 

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