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Igniter program ‘huge’ for Historic Westside businesses

Updated November 7, 2022 - 10:01 am

Business owner Myles Bunch grew up in Las Vegas’ Historic Westside, and his family used to operate the now-closed restaurant and lounge Chez Place.

Now, he runs his own food business with his wife, Valencia Lawerence, called the Edible Bunch, a mobile plant-based restaurant that sets up shop at farmers markets and events across the Las Vegas Valley. But he said the business environment in the Historic Westside is underdeveloped, making it difficult for small business owners like himself to find support services.

“It just doesn’t seem like we get the same opportunity funding-wise, as from other sides of town,” Bunch said, whose goal is to open a brick-and-mortar location.

That could change thanks to a $2.1 million federal grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

The grant, managed by UNLV, is being used to launch the UNLV Tourism Business Igniter, and it will help hospitality and tourism-related companies in the Historic Westside, Bo Bernhard, vice president of economic development at UNLV, said in an email.

Officials held a ribbon cutting last week to unveil the new 850-square-foot space, which is located on the campus of nonprofit Nevada Partners, 690 W. Lake Mead Blvd. The program will start early next year, and the grant should last two years, Bernhard said.

Ela Garcia, project manager at Nevada Partners, said the university and nonprofit worked on the grant writing for the past year. She said the new federal funds will cover some “wraparound services” such as child care and transportation costs, which can be a limiting factor for people starting a business.

“These resources that we normally wouldn’t have are going to be more accessible to them,” Garcia said.

Participants of the UNLV Tourism Business Igniter will also have access to services provided by Nevada Partners such as its computer lab, workshop and meeting rooms, according to Garcia.

Bernhard noted the igniter will serve as a “convening space,” for small businesses. It will offer programs such as entrepreneurship classes, help with marketing and legal services, and mentorship from successful small businesses in the area.

‘A different place’

Bunch said the new igniter program could be “huge” for nearby businesses because of their proximity to the Strip and downtown Las Vegas.

“There’s a lot of businesses that try and thrive (on the Historic Westside),” he said. “We’re right next to downtown and it’s like a total difference when you’re coming from downtown and you cross the overpass, and it’s like you’re in a different place.”

Bunch said he participated in a similar business development program run by Nevada Partners called Promise Startups, which helped him scale The Edible Bunch.

“It showed me that I was on the right track,” he said. “And then it gave me some pieces that I was missing and was giving us different ideas on the possibilities of scaling your business.”

Bunch started developing the brand with his wife in 2019, finally launching the company in January.

Clark County Commissioner William McCurdy II said the Historic Westside has been neglected in the past, but he believes the new federal funding will help improve the environment for small businesses.

“It’s only the Historic Westside because it’s west of the railroad tracks, and historically, it was the only place where African Americans could be,” McCurdy said. “At one point in time, it had multiple hotels and was home to the Moulin Rouge, which was the first integrated hotel-casino in all of Las Vegas. So, it begins with starting to tell and share the story of the Westside.”

The area has often been overlooked, but things are starting to take off with services like the new UNLV Tourism Business Igniter and recent development plans. Last month, the Las Vegas City Council approved an agreement with developer Sam Cherry that calls for a five-story, 84-unit rental complex with 10,000 square feet of commercial space.

Cherry, CEO of Cherry Development, told the Review-Journal he envisions food and beverage outlets and hopefully a business incubator program in the $22 million project near Washington Avenue and Interstate 15.

Recovery mode

McCurdy said the state secured the $2.1 million grant to help the city’s tourism industry, which was decimated during pandemic.

Southern Nevada received a total of $3.9 million with $2.1 million reserved for the igniter program and $1.8 million to Las Vegas for pre-vocational training in the culinary and hospitality sectors, according to a news release.

“The Southern Nevada economy was disproportionately impacted by COVID, due to the very nature that we don’t have a diverse economy and diverse revenue stream,” he said.

Garcia said Nevada Partners plans to focus on connecting businesses in the Historic Westside to resources that will help them tap into the tourism industry, increasing their chances of success.

“It’s a lot of little things that trigger people to focus their business on tourism just because Las Vegas is known for tourism, and so what better way to capitalize your business on, right?” she said.

Contact Sean Hemmersmeier at shemmersmeier@reviewjournal.com. Follow @seanhemmers34 on Twitter.

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