Children’s museum and center’s links to downtown planned

Sam Cherry is happy to be downtown again.

Known for the development of two key downtown high-rises, Soho Lofts (where he lives) and Newport Lofts, Cherry took some time away from the downtown scene to regroup after his namesake development group crumbled with the real estate crash.

But Cherry is back downtown and likes what he sees in the new Fremont East District, at Soho with its Lady Sylvia bar opening last summer, a grocery store up and running, and the many overall additions to an area brimming with optimism.

Cherry also shares a common thinking with local businesses of making a connection to The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

"A lot of downtown property owners have reached out to The Smith Center to try to package services. … Someone might want to do dinner, a cocktail and dessert after the show. … A downtown hotel could provide shuttle service," said Bill Arent, director of economic and urban development for the city of Las Vegas.

"At Lady Sylvia, we need to do a good job of giving that person a great experience before going to the show or after," Cherry added.

Links to downtown

With businesses wanting to link on the marketing front, there also is a quest for a physical link from Symphony Park to amenities downtown. Newland Development, which oversees the build-out of the 61-acre Symphony Park, doesn’t have a lot of big vertical construction announcements on the near horizon. But some of the smaller stuff is important, too.

A pedestrian bridge soon will break ground from the south end of Symphony Park near The Smith Center, crossing the railroad tracks along Symphony Park’s eastern border to a parking garage being built for the recently opened City Hall. This link, for which Newland is pursuing federal funds to build, will help Smith Center patrons gain access to Fremont Street.

Other pedestrian bridges using land owned by the Plaza should come in the future, said Rita Brandin, senior vice president with Newland Development.

Linking The Smith Center to other parts of downtown also will involve transit. The city is working with the RTC to create what Arent calls a "downtown circulator route" to help shuttle people around the area.

Children’s museum

The Lied Discovery Children’s Museum is slated for a big upgrade when it reopens this November at the Donald W. Reynolds Discovery Center next to The Smith Center. The museum has enjoyed a 20-plus year run at its current location on Las Vegas Boulevard near Cashman Field. In 2010, the museum had about 160,000 visitors, up from 87,000 in 2008.

With 58,000 square feet, the new three-story building is nearly double the size of the existing two-story facility. The $55 million effort will see the bulk of its construction, move-in and new exhibit costs covered by a $43 million gift from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. Fundraising efforts are ongoing to cover the remaining $12 million.

The new museum, to be called the Children’s Discovery Museum, will have a traveling exhibit gallery that is more than triple its current 1,500 square feet, allowing it to bring in higher-caliber and larger exhibits.

"Some exhibits haven’t been able to visit Las Vegas because there isn’t a place big enough to house them," said Brock Radke, a museum spokesman.

The space also is flexible to accommodate a couple of smaller exhibits and even hold summer camps with the remaining room, Radke said.

The new site will have nine themed exhibition halls, and a main multilevel exhibit, The Summit, will provide hands-on experience for children and adults who want to climb, touch and learn.

More Symphony Park

Beyond the museum, Symphony Park’s future has plenty of wait-and-see moments ahead.

Second-phase infrastructure work continues on the north end of the 61 acres. The Charlie Palmer luxury hotel and Cordish Companies’ plans for an arena/entertainment district are still alive, despite real estate market and financing hurdles for many developers, Brandin said.

However, the Review-Journal reported that developers of the Charlie Palmer hotel told the City Council that they had exercised their option to postpone the construction deadline for the project an additional year and might build in phases.

The Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health also has several neighboring parcels on which to expand.

Along with The Smith Center opening come two small parks and the site’s main namesake park, which touches the northern end of the performing arts center property. Newland, which has development rights for numerous residential parcels on Symphony Park, isn’t expected to start any residential units until 2016, Brandin said.

Retail in the area will be added slowly with the addition of the entertainment district, hotel and residential complexes.

"The way the master plan and overall concept design works is that each developer, as they bring a project forward, (will) have street-front retail," she said.

But until credit markets loosen up, planning will have to be the name of the game.

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