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Arts get emergency aid

Downtown Las Vegas, once you leave the Fremont Street Experience, lacks one critical thing that’s keeping it from taking off: a steady stream of people.

Sure, there are those who flock to the Fremont East district for the distinct local bars, and First Friday, a monthly celebration for the Arts District, draws large crowds.

What’s needed, though, is a regular, diverse flow of traffic, the kind on which neighborhoods are built.

A downtown bar owner is taking a stab at that, with a “creative collective” called Emergency Arts that will be housed in a former medical building at the corner of Sixth and Fremont streets across from the El Cortez.

“The idea is a collective of many different things,” said Michael Cornthwaite, owner of the Downtown Cocktail Room and the primary leaseholder at Emergency Arts.

So far he has 18 tenants, including artists, musicians, a cafe, an arts magazine, a bike co-op, a cafe, a Green Party gubernatorial candidate and the Burlesque Hall of Fame.

A similar concept was tried, unsuccessfully, almost next door at Neonopolis, where the empty food court was converted into studio spaces for artists to work and display their wares. It lasted six months before the plug was pulled last summer.

“The revenue generated by the artists was not enough to pay for the electricity,” said Rohit Joshi, who manages Neonopolis.

The Southern Nevada Museum of Fine Art expanded its Neonopolis location to fill the studio space and opened a new exhibit on Saturday.

Cornthwaite said his original idea was for an artists’ building, too.

“Over time, it just evolved. Artists alone won’t bring the traffic,” he said. “The collective of artists doesn’t work, in my opinion.”

City inspections are complete, Cornthwaite said. Tenants should start moving in next month, with a grand opening tentatively scheduled sometime in April.

“I think it’s huge,” said Chris Jones, who will take out office space in the project for his arts magazine, Innervisions. “It could really put the art movement that everyone has been working hard for — it could put it on the map.”

Photographer Jorge Novoa also plans to move in, and has chosen a room that used to be used for analyzing X-rays. The lighted panels are still on the wall and will be useful for viewing negatives, he said.

“Anything that adds activity to that district is great,” said Novoa.

Cornthwaite said he was pleasantly surprised that initial enthusiasm for the project has translated into people lining up to sign leases. Only the first floor will be used, for now.

“If things go the way that we want, we could have two floors by the end of the year,” he said.

If successful, Emergency Arts would add something different to Fremont East, a three-block district dedicated in August 2007 with the hope that it could become a teeming nightlife district with unique offerings and local appeal.

The faltering economy delayed or wrecked many of the proposed projects there — a live music hall, a retro burger joint, an arts museum and a comedy club.

A guitar store came and went.

Four bars — the Downtown Cocktail Room, the Griffin, Beauty Bar and Don’t Tell Mama — opened and remain so, and there are a few restaurants as well.

And it’s not all bad news. On Seventh Street between Fremont Street and Ogden Avenue, renovations are under way for Azul Tequila, a 12,000-square-foot nightclub that’s expecting to open by Cinco de Mayo.

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