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Visitors center construction begins for Neon Boneyard

Las Vegas might be a town that reinvents itself every five years, but there’s a place for some of the castaway victims of those reinventions, and that place, the Neon Boneyard, is getting a makeover, too.

There’s now a shiny new park next to the collection of mostly worn and faded neon signs that populate the Boneyard.

And construction will start soon on a long-awaited visitors center that will allow the collection to be more accessible.

Officials dedicated the park and ceremonially broke ground on the new building Thursday morning.

"I’ve worked on this project for 20 years," said Nancy Deaner, head of Las Vegas’ Cultural Affairs Department. "It’s just proof that good projects, cultural projects, take time."

The $2 million, half-acre Neon Boneyard Park has a picnic area, historical plaques and storage for neon signs not on display. The park itself is fenced so it can be secured against would-be vandals and campers. Funds came from the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act, which sets aside money from federal land sales for parks and recreation projects.

The park sits next to Cashman Field at Las Vegas Boulevard and McWilliams Avenue, adjacent to where the former lobby of La Concha Motel is being turned into a visitors center. That project and the Boneyard are being overseen by the Neon Museum, a nonprofit group, and construction funding will come from donations and grants.

"The Neon Boneyard, the Neon Museum, is all part of this new interest in what is old Las Vegas," said Bill Marion, chairman of the museum’s board. "It’s a real economic tool that the city is going to reap benefits from for many years."

Construction on the visitors center is scheduled to start in September and be complete by next May, he said. Then the attraction can be open for general admission.

Currently the Boneyard is open only to scheduled tours at $15 a person. Even without advertising, those tours are booked three weeks in advance right now, Marion said, and the Boneyard’s website gets 18,000 visitors a month.

The Neon Museum’s collection also includes refurbished signs on display at the Fremont Street Experience, on Fremont Street and along Las Vegas Boulevard.

Making the park and the visitors center a reality "seemed like it was never going to happen," Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said.

"And now we’re here," he said. "It just fits right into the jigsaw puzzle that we’ve created here downtown."

The Boneyard has an eclectic collection of signs from Las Vegas’ past — old casino signs from the likes of the Stardust, the Desert Inn and the Showboat as well as signs from other shuttered businesses and, looming large, a huge skull from the Treasure Island property. The signs are in various states of repair — some look fresh and well-maintained while others carry the wear of decades.

Las Vegas City Councilman Ricki Barlow, who represents the area that includes the Boneyard, said he remembers many of the signs from when they were still attached to casinos and illuminated.

"It’s a walk back in history for me," Barlow said. "For so long, this town was about implosion. I’m glad to see that now we’re about restoration."

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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