The latest saviors of the derelict but historic Huntridge Theater were becoming fatigued, but after the Las Vegas Centennial Commission voted unanimously Monday to invest $1 million in the salvation process, Michael Cornthwaite said he is re-energized.
He and Joey Vanas have been working on saving the theater for several years, trying to get private investors to step up. He said he spoke to Zappos’ Tony Hsieh about two years ago, but Hsieh hasn’t committed funds to the Huntridge.
In a nearly three-hour meeting that drew more than 100 people, the commissioners heard nothing but support for saving the Huntridge.
There was no opposition, and the grant will still have to be approved by the Las Vegas City Council.
“I have some reservations whether this plan will work, but I want to give it a chance,” said one commission member, former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, who lived near the historic property as a child and attended the first matinee there when it opened in 1944. “Are they going to be able to raise private sector funds?”
Vanas and Cornthwaite, operating as Huntridge Revival LLC, said if the city showed its commitment, then private funds would follow. Vanas said between $500,0000 and $1.5 million has been promised.
If all the hurdles are passed, the city would end up owning an island of land, about one-third of an acre.
One woman wept as she described what the theater meant to her and her son, saying they represented “generational love for the Huntridge Theater. …If we allow this building to die, we’re removing precious history.”
Her son, Graham Kahr, said, “The first time I told my wife I loved her was in that theater.” He and others conceded the corner at Maryland Parkway and Charleston Boulevard is “currently a blight.”
Cornthwaite and Vanas will need to raise about $3 million to buy the land surrounding the theater. With the restoration and renovation, it’s estimated they will need between $10 million and $14 million. Annual operational costs are estimated to be about $3 million. Cornthwaite owns the Beat Coffeehouse and Downtown Cocktail Room while Vanas operates the First Fridays, so both are committed to downtown redevelopment.
Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who took her children to that theater, said private investors must step up, but Vanas and Cornthwaite said they are facing a July 10 deadline to come up with money to buy the land, although an extension is possible.
“This is a huge step for this commission. I’m surprised Tony Hsieh hasn’t come up with a commitment,” said Goodman, pointing out that by granting $1 million for this project “small historical projects will not get funded.”
Moments later, a woman said, “Tony Hsieh is not our cash cow, we need this from you.” Then she snapped, “You work for us.”
Another woman told the commissioners, “You need to take a leap of faith.”
The state took a leap of faith over five years and invested $1.5 million to help save the theater. But recently it sued the owners for failing to live up to the covenants that came with the money. Unless the state case is settled, the grant to the city to buy the land won’t go forward.
Coffin, who has been the leading proponent on the council, said the money the commission is giving is not taxpayer money, but comes from license fees that about 100,000 people have willingly paid to fund the commission. About $1.6 million a year is raised from the centennial license fees.
Since the final decision will be made by the City Council and not the Centennial commissioners, Coffin urged the other members to “trust the City Council to make the right decision. We will make sure all the safeguards are in place.”
The city put in $150,000 to save the Huntridge in 1994.
The theater is protected from being bulldozed by the state covenants until July 1, 2017, but at that point, the Mizrachi family can tear it down if they want and put the land on the corner up for sale.
“It’s an incredible building and deserves to be preserved and brought back to life,” Vanas said. “We’re running out of time. Quite a few private investors are waiting on the outcome of this meeting.”
Contact Jane Ann Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0275.