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Sides clash over proposal to restrict noise downtown

What’s it like living next to downtown Las Vegas’ hippest, up-and-coming nightlife zone? Ask Denise Brockway. Just be sure to speak up.

“Terrible,” says Brockway, 58, a resident of the Downtowner Motel, a low-budget, extended-stay property that predates by decades the city’s latest effort to attract bars and nightclubs to the Fremont East area. Brockway uses her television and air conditioner to drown out the noise, which also means she has to bury herself underneath the covers to stay warm.

The Downtowner, located at 129 N. Eighth St. since 1963, abuts Azul nightclub, which opened in September and has an outdoor stage with hip-hop, reggae and other acts performing until as late, or early, as 4 or 5 a.m.

“I understand Las Vegas is a place that doesn’t sleep at night,” said Brockway, a receptionist. “But I think they should lower the noise. People have to get up and go to work.”

But in addition to being next door to the Downtowner, Azul is in a six-block entertainment district known as Fremont East, which in 2008 was exempted from city noise ordinances.

The idea behind the entertainment district noise exemption was to attract business to an area that had been known for crime, vagrancy and blight. Thanks to the exemption and other city incentives, Fremont East is home to 10 new bars, most of which offer late-night, live music and at least two of which hold late-night concerts outdoors.

The clash between residents who need sleep and new businesses trying to stay afloat in a brutal economy was the subject of a community forum Tuesday night at the El Cortez. Ward 5 Councilman Ricki Barlow, who was seeking feedback on a proposed noise ordinance, was host of the forum, which drew more than 100 residents and business owners.

The proposed ordinance would restrict outdoor music after midnight from Sunday through Thursday and after 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

“If this ordinance is passed, we are out of business,” said Frank Elam, who owns the Azul building. Elam said he and Francisco Lara, the nightclub operator, have invested about $750,000 in the property at 115 S. Seventh St. on the understanding they could hold late concerts. “Those people who work there will no longer have a job.”

But the proposed ordinance sounded like a great idea to residents who say music from Azul and the Beauty Bar prevents them from getting a healthy night’s sleep.

“I believe that reasonable limits on noise will benefit the businesses in the long run because it will allow residents to be comfortable here,” said Aaron Fricke, 34, an attorney who said he moved downtown to be closer to work and avoid a commute. “Sometimes I wonder whether I should go move to Summerlin.”

Fremont East business owners, and some residents, however, say the city would be guilty of pulling a bait-and-switch on bar and club owners who invested in the area because it was supposed to be friendly to late-night entertainment.

“They wrote the rules, and we followed the rules,” Elam said. “And now they want to change the rules.”

James Woodbridge, co-founder of the Neon Reverb music festival, said late-night limits would be a death knell to the burgeoning district because prime partying time in Las Vegas doesn’t even start until 11 p.m.

“Even 2 a.m. on the weekends is going to make it very difficult to have this kind of entertainment, the kind of entertainment this district was created for,” Woodbridge said.

Jonathan Jossel, director of Las Vegas properties for Tamares, the company that owns the Plaza hotel-casino, the Western casino and bar and restaurant properties in Fremont East, said the mere possibility of the noise ordinance could be bad for the economy.

Jossel said the Beauty Bar, which rents its property from Tamares, is just now starting to support itself without rent discounts. A noise ordinance that makes outdoor space unusable during prime hours could be devastating.

David Sullivan, who works in new business development for Sound Investment, which designs, installs and supports sound systems for nightclubs, said there is technology available that can reduce sound that escapes from music venues.

Sullivan, who said the company has installed sound-reduction technology at The Cosmopolitan, said similar technology could help downtown.

“We have the technology that can quiet things so the residents can sleep at night and the clubs can slam it and do what they want to do,” Sullivan said.

Mayor Carolyn Goodman, whose husband, former Mayor Oscar Goodman was a strong supporter of the Fremont East party concept, said she thinks the city can balance the interests of residents and businesses.

“I think there are things we can do to mitigate this,” she said.

A proposed noise ordinance could be introduced to the City Council as soon as Oct. 19 and voted on Nov. 16.

Contact Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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