Berwick’s, a restaurant and bar that had been touted as a symbol of downtown Henderson’s renaissance, has closed after just four months in business.
But a pizzeria has already signed a deal to move into the same space on Water Street in a few months, offering a bar, live music and karaoke.
City officials and business owners hope the Berwick’s closure is just a hiccup. But it suggests the road to a more vital downtown won’t be an easy one.
Billed as an “urban lounge,” Berwick’s opened in August and closed just before the new year, laying off about 10 employees. A small handwritten “Closed” sign was taped to the door.
Owner Jimmy Wike said the business was losing money, but he wouldn’t say how much. A self-described “absentee owner” who lives in Mesquite, he said that distance made it hard to oversee Berwick’s. More importantly, he said, he didn’t get tens of thousands of dollars in expected redevelopment aid from the city.
When word of the closure spread, building owners Tim Brooks and Doug Beavers immediately started getting calls from potential tenants.
That alone, they said, is a good sign for downtown.
“It’s a great opportunity right now to get in on the ground floor,” said Mike Zakis, who will open Sunset Pizzeria in the spot vacated by Berwick’s. He hopes to open around April.
Zakis, who already has two locations elsewhere in Henderson, said he’s confident he will be able to draw people downtown with good food and entertainment.
“There is money and people in this town,” Zakis said. “It’s just that they need a new place to go.”
The city has been working to revitalize downtown since 1995, with tactics including marketing, buying and selling land and providing loans or grants to new businesses.
Yet for much of the past 20 years, the area has seemed caught in a Catch-22. It’s hard to attract more people without the restaurants, bars and entertainment. But it’s hard to get businesses to open without a critical mass of customers.
Beavers and other Henderson natives want to recapture the downtown they remember from decades ago, before sprawling master-planned communities and upscale malls drew people away.
“Water Street was where everything happened when I was a kid,” said Beavers, 43.
Berwick’s was supposed to be one of the first steps back.
“They were kind of the Marines, I guess, in the sense that they were the first guys who came in and gave it a shot,” Beavers said.
Barbra Coffee, the city’s economic development director, said the Berwick’s closure was disappointing.
But she said her staff is negotiating with a couple of other possible new businesses, which she couldn’t identify, for downtown. Brooks said he has heard they are probably restaurants.
The City Council recently agreed to sell land for two downtown construction projects.
Architect Windom Kimsey plans to build a development on Water Street called Blue Skye, the first phase of which will include his architecture firm’s offices and ground-floor retail.
That should open this year, Kimsey said, followed in 2016 by a second phase with more retail and a still-undetermined number of residential units.
And Lovelady Brewing Co., a craft brewery that will have a pub with patio seating, should begin construction early this year, Coffee said. The city approved a $40,000 grant to help it along.
Wike was counting on similar help. He said city staff told him he would be eligible for $67,500 in redevelopment incentives, some of which would have been matching funds. That money, he said, would have helped him market Berwick’s and served as a “cushion” while the restaurant built up business.
Only when he was committed to opening, Wike said, did he learn businesses at 203 S. Water St. weren’t eligible for redevelopment aid. The city said that is because it made $164,000 in concessions when it sold the building in 2013.
Tiffany Reardon, a spokeswoman for the city’s Economic Development Division, said a staffer initially told Berwick’s it would be eligible to apply for incentives.
But the city quickly corrected the error, Reardon said, and made it clear months before Berwick’s opened that there would be no incentive money.
Wike, a former casino executive, said he’s not bitter and will now “re-retire,” as he put it.
The restaurant business is notoriously tough. And others who are investing in downtown Henderson say the Berwick’s closure doesn’t discourage them.
“I still think there’s a positive upswing on Water Street in general, or otherwise I wouldn’t be putting my own capital into the neighborhood,” Kimsey said.
He’s putting more than his money into it: Either this year or next, Kimsey plans to start living in Blue Skye.
“I’m going to be lonely for a while,” he said.
But in time, he’s expecting company.
Contact Eric Hartley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-550-9229. Find him on Twitter: @ethartley.