People streamed into the final town hall meeting on Las Vegas budget woes to the strains of a Bach aria played by a small string ensemble from the Las Vegas Youth Orchestra -- and they weren't just there to play pretty music.
They were part of a coordinated pitch to city officials to keep the Reed Whipple Cultural Center, home to the orchestra and the Rainbow Company Youth Theatre, open in the face of yawning budget deficits and pending layoffs.
Mayor Oscar Goodman, Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian and City Manager Betsy Fretwell all spoke of the city's commitment to the arts and said no final decisions have been made. The City Council on Wednesday will consider a preliminary budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Goodman said audience members should be urging city workers to take a pay cut in the coming budget year so that layoffs, service cuts and the closing of the Reed Whipple center can be avoided.
"This is a whole new world," Goodman said. "We don't have the money."
The economic downturn has led to a steep slide in tax revenue, and the city is trying to make up an expected $70 million deficit in fiscal 2011.
Some will come from reserves, but city management has asked the unions that represent almost all city workers to agree to forgo all scheduled wage increases and take an 8 percent pay cut.
If not, 171 city employees will be laid off in the new fiscal year, and services would be reduced, including the closure of the Reed Whipple center.
"This one time, we can keep everything the same" if the wage concessions are achieved, Goodman said. "If we don't hear that, we're going to have to cut."
Talks are under way with the firefighters' union for a new contract, and the city marshals offered concessions this week that the city said didn't go far enough. The largest of the unions, the Las Vegas City Employees Association, is tracking what the other unions do before considering cuts.
In the meantime, community members turned out to defend the Reed Whipple center, a nearly 50-year-old building that served as temporary city hall when the current municipal headquarters was being built in the 1970s.
Its namesake was a noted Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leader who served on the Las Vegas City Commission from 1947 to 1967.
Closing Reed Whipple, located at 821 Las Vegas Boulevard North, leaves other community centers still available relatively close to downtown, city spokesman David Riggleman said. The site also has redevelopment potential because it's located between the Cashman Center, which the city wants to remake, and another city building that is going to be vacated.
If the center does close, the beloved orchestra and theater company will be moved, city officials promised. But that's easier said than done.
"Orchestras are hard to move," said Bev Patton, executive director of the youth orchestra. "I don't think the members of the City Council understand the ramifications, what it takes to build an orchestra like this."
It has 250 to 300 members, depending on the year, and needs room for up to four groups to rehearse, not counting breaking off into individual sections.
The theater company has similar concerns.
"The facilities there are unparalleled in the city," said Callie Mower, who was with the company until 2005. They include spaces for sets, costume design, props, two stages and several rooms for rehearsals and theater workshops.
"They take advantage of every single space in that building," she said.
The concerns voiced about the cultural center are the same as those others have raised about senior centers, recreation programs and other favorites that people have come to expect from the city, Goodman said. If Reed Whipple is saved, maybe another center will be closed, one that has just as many reasons to stay open.
"The council is committed to the arts," the mayor said. "But to say that they have to be at one place or not the other -- that's not fair to us who have to make those tough decisions."
The theater company could move to the Charleston Heights Arts Center, where Thursday's meeting took place.
It's not a bad choice, but it's not ideal, Mower said, because it doesn't have the space Reed Whipple does.
"They have an extremely difficult job," she said of council members. "At the end of the day they have to make the choices they have to make."
Contact reporter Alan Choate at email@example.com or 702-229-6435.