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Neonopolis in waiting

The fate of Neonopolis seemed troubled from the beginning.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman threatened to kill the project in its infancy — 10 years ago — when construction halted because then-anchor tenant Mann Theaters declared bankruptcy.

The city spent $32 million in taxpayer money to acquire land for the project and build an underground parking garage.

Nearing the end of his 12 years in office set to end soon because of term limits , Goodman recently called the $100 million entertainment and retail complex "the bane of my existence."

The retail center was supposed to help boost gaming revenues for the coalition of nearby casinos.

Located a stone’s throw from the Fremont Street Experience, Neonopolis was to become a retail anchor for the heavy tourism area in the heart of downtown Las Vegas.

But it sits on a 2.27-acre city block almost empty — as it has for a decade — on the corner of Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard as its identity crisis continues. (Remember Fremont Square, anyone?)

As movie theaters, restaurants and bars have quickly come and gone throughout the years, it seems Neonopolis doesn’t know what it wants to be.

Rohit Joshi heads the investment group that purchased the center in 2006. He remains optimistic about the fate of Neonopolis, which is named for it s three miles of neon lights that shine brightly on its darkened storefronts.

Its emptiness comes down to four factors: a box like design that obstructs the view of the building, a high turnover tourist demographic, its specialty retail zoning and the economic downturn, Joshi added.

"This wasn’t something intended to be a failure," Joshi said. "It was supposed to be an anchor for all the casinos that create 18 to 20 million visitors on Fremont Street Experience. It was supposed to be a positive, but all these things combined, we’ve just got to have patience. We just need to keep working together to make it some sort of a magnet."

The 300,000-square-foot complex is a copycat project of CocoWalk, a successful multi-use entertainment facility based in Miami.

"It’s all about content," Joshi said. "If you get the right tenants, if you get the right user, all of a sudden everything changes. Until the right tenant comes that is good for the building, the entire city and the tenant, we have to be patient. It’s not a matter of time, it’s a matter of quality that you can bring in to make this project successful."

Las Vegas Rocks Cafe is the most recent tenant to close its doors because of air conditioning problems.

Tenants that have been able to stay afloat in the complex include Telemundo, Del Prado Jewelers and the Southern Nevada Museum of Fine Art.

Joseph Palermo, the museum’s executive director, said museums in Las Vegas don’t usually get a lot of traffic.

"We do pretty good here," Palermo said. "The reason we’re here is because it’s a place to put the arts in a central location. We’re here doing our thing."

It’s been three years since the privately funded, nonprofit museum moved from its Henderson location. The museum touts more than 20,000-square-feet of exhibit area with a main gallery, a special exhibitions gallery and a small works gallery. It was founded in 2003.

"As far as the rest of the building, I’m not concerned about it at all," Palermo said. "It’s a great building, that’s all I can say. It’s a great location, and it’s been great for the museum."

Dozens of classic neon signs from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s adorn the outside of an elevator in the courtyard.

Ghosts of tenants past remain as posters for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" — a 2008 Brad Pitt flick — still hang at the former Galaxy Neonopolis 11 movie theater. A lonely ticket booth sits in front of the Fremont Street entrance, another movie theater casualty.

The booth, which housed components for telephones, computers and other theater electronics, actually protects a fanbelt that blows air into the underground garage, Joshi said.

As for the immediate future of Neonopolis, its content dictates the concept created for the project, he added.

"Part of it is the economy today," Joshi said. "We just have to hang in there and wait it out. This project has value, there’s no doubt about it. We are trying to correct it and get on the right path. That takes time and requires a combination of things."

Contact Downtown and North Las Vegas View reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@viewnews.com or 383-0492.

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