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Sculptures, closures, new development and more dotted 2011’s landscape

When looking back at 2011 in the Paradise and downtown areas, the year was characterized by building closures paired with new museum openings, notable changes in the 18b Arts District and more.

PAINTBRUSHES DRAW OBJECTIONS

The arts community was shaken by the Jan. 22 death of Dennis Oppenheim, the creator of two 45-foot neon paintbrushes at Fourth Street and Casino Center Boulevard along Charleston Boulevard. Oppenheim’s death came amid controversy surrounding the $700,000 project, which was unfinished and deemed improperly installed, as they were too close to a power line in the intersection, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. The project was completed in March and dedicated June 2 at the Brett Wesley Gallery, 1112 S. Casino Center Blvd. The two slightly tilted LED paintbrushes can be seen lit at night as the gateway into the 18b Arts District.

FIRST FRIDAY UNDERGOES CHANGES

Another event that struck the Arts District was the two-month hiatus and return of First Friday, in which admission to downtown art galleries is free and open to the public during the first Friday evening of each month.

Cindy Funkhouser of Whirlygig Inc., the nonprofit group that founded First Friday in 2002, announced in July that the monthly shindig would go on hiatus due to limited funding. First Friday, however, returned in October under new ownership. Zappos chief executive officer Tony Hsieh, partner Fred Mossler, developer Andrew Donner and Joey Vanas, managing partner of First Friday LLC, took over the event, bringing changes with it. More live entertainment, food options and street art were added in Fremont East, as were more parking and corporate sponsorship.

Since the three First Fridays are under new ownership, the event continues to grow, and more changes are set for 2012. Artists and performers must be preapproved by the First Friday committee to showcase work, and the event will run from 5 to 11 p.m. for the January, February and March festivals.

CLOSURES, CONSTRUCTION, RELOCATIONS

The opening of several buildings and ongoing construction of others made several headlines in the past year.

The continued construction and anticipation of the Smith Center for the Performing Arts opening in Symphony Park was a hot topic in 2011, and the performing arts center is set to open March 10, 2012. Its inaugural season of shows and performances includes “The Color Purple,” “Mary Poppins” entertainers such as blues guitarist Buddy Guy and author David Sedaris.

The city’s newest museum addition came in October, when the Nevada State Museum opened at the Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd. The museum moved into the $51.5 million building from Lorenzi Park and houses taxidermy creatures, historical videos and various archives on the state’s history. The building was completed in 2009, but the plan to move did not come to fruition until Gov . Brian Sandoval’s administration agreed to adding $180,000 in state funds and $150,000 in revenue from the Tourism Commission, according to a May 12 Las Vegas Review-Journal article.

In news surrounding the city of Las Vegas, including the continued construction of the new City Hall building set to open next year, Carolyn Goodman, wife of former mayor Oscar Goodman, was elected mayor in June. Carolyn Goodman took 61 percent of the vote to beat Chris Giunchigliani, a Clark County commissioner. Goodman took office July 6, ending her husband’s 12-year tenure as mayor.

In Paradise, building closures and unfinished construction were hot topics in 2011. The Sahara, one of the few remaining hotel-casinos in which the Rat Pack performed, closed its doors in May after 59 years. Though a $2 million renovation on the building took place when SBE Entertainment acquired the building in 2007, the company claimed it could not survive because of the economy.

Other hotels suffered for similar reasons, including two that have yet to open or see completion. The Fontainebleau and Echelon on Las Vegas Boulevard are two unfinished projects along the Strip with unknown futures. The Fontainebleau, a $3 billion project, ceased construction in April 2009, but the legal battle continues over the allegation that those involved mismanaged loans, according to a Nov. 23 Las Vegas Review-Journal article . The $4.8 billion Echelon sits unfinished and halted construction in 2008.

OCCUPYING LAS VEGAS

Unfinished buildings weren’t the only obvious signs of the Recession seen in Paradise. The Occupy movement that began in New York City in September trickled to several other cities across the country, including Las Vegas.

The Occupy Las Vegas movement took shape in October with more than 1,000 people protesting on the Strip and claiming to be the “99 percenters.” The group continued protesting throughout the city, including the Meadows Mall, 4300 Meadows Lane, Suite 10, on Black Friday, before eventually settling into an encampment between Paradise Road and Swenson Street near the Thomas & Mack Center, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway. As of press time, Clark County management on Nov. 18 signed off on a 90-day extension through Feb. 20, 2012, for protesters to stay in the encampment, which came one day after 21 protesters were arrested for stopping traffic in front of the federal courthouse.

MARATHON RUNNERS FALL ILL

Another controversial event occurred Dec. 3 in which numerous Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon runners claimed that water served during the race caused them to become ill. According to tests taken by 11 of these runners , the Southern Nevada Health District found no evidence that the water caused illness to participants. Officials from the health district claimed that evidence suggests these runners were exposed to a virus before the race, and as of press time, the same samples were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further testing.

Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Lisa Carter at lcarter@viewnews.com or 383-0492.

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