Smith Performing Arts Center project gets city go-ahead

A groundbreaking for the long-awaited Smith Center for the Performing Arts has been tentatively scheduled for May 26, with construction on the concert hall and theater building expected to be complete by early 2012.

The Las Vegas City Council today approved the necessary agreements and funding for the $245 million project to go forward.

“This is going to be the epicenter of all that’s good for years to come,” said Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.

The center is to be the anchor of Union Park, a 61-acre development in downtown Las Vegas on what used to be a Union Pacific railroad yard.

Having all the documentation and funding in place is a big step for a project that’s been almost 15 years in the making, said Myron Martin, president of the Smith Center board.

The project is expected to create about 1,000 construction jobs. When complete, the center will provide a permanent home to the Nevada Ballet Theater and the Las Vegas Philharmonic.

Construction money is coming from several sources:

— $105 million in city bonds backed by a tax on rental cars

— $68 million in bond money from the city’s redevelopment agency

— $75 million from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, which is also providing money for an operating endowment

Plans for the center include a 2,050-seat multipurpose main hall, an education building that will house a 300-seat cabaret theater, and a 200-seat flexible studio theater for rehearsals, children’s theater and community events.

No concern was voiced today about taking on such a large project in the midst of a recession, although the economic slump was mentioned.

“To build anything in this environment is something,” Martin said. “To build something this significant for a community in this environment is really something.

“Performing arts centers have proven to provide the impetus for development. By the time we open, I expect developers to be developing not just around us in Union Park, but across the railroad tracks and across the freeway, and you’ll start seeing a new downtown emerge.”

The center is named for Fred W. Smith, a former executive with the Las Vegas Review-Journal and chairman of the Reynolds Foundation. The foundation is named for the late owner of the Donrey Media Group, which used to own the Review-Journal. Its headquarters is in Las Vegas.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at or 702-229-6435.