After weeks of occasionally strident acrimony, especially on Facebook, you’d think there is an uprising against gentrification and redevelopment, directed at the Huntridge revival.
Apparently not so much.
Supporters of that development effort were more or less singing “Kumbaya” at a community meeting last week that attracted few critics and a lot of supporters.
About 120 came to remember the Huntridge Theater, where they saw (or played in) rock shows, saw their favorite movies or had their first kiss. The 69-year-old theater is in disrepair, and a trio of Las Vegas entrepreneurs has signed a commitment to buy it. They say their proposal is contingent on getting support from the community, thus an effort to raise $150,000 from individuals by the end of next month through an online crowd-sourcing engine.
The Huntridge project, though, has become a bigger issue than one building at the corner of Charleston and Maryland. For some who live in or near downtown it has become an emblem of gentrification, especially as concerns the projects led by entrepreneur Tony Hsieh. Hsieh-led entities include Zappos Inc., the online retailer, which is moving into the old city hall; Downtown Project, which has promised to invest $350 million downtown, including completed projects in and around Fremont Street; and First Friday.
Joey Vanas, one of the the Huntridge Revival’s three investors, leads First Friday; one of his partners, Michael Cornthwaite, owns Downtown Cocktail Room and The Beat coffeehouse and invests in downtown projects. Those connections are enough for Hsieh’s critics to engage in an online campaign against the Save the Huntridge effort.
“Who elected incoming white yuppies to represent a majority Latino neighborhood?” asked one Ari Amin on the Save the Huntridge Facebook page. The 89104 zip code includes slightly more than 53 percent Hispanic population, according to the 2010 Census.
“Who elected real estate hacks who have to gain from gentrification as their spokespeople?” asked Amin, who does not appear to hold elected office in the city of Las Vegas. Others have joined in, questioning the Huntridge’s project’s lack of a clear business plan, and the fact that it’s a for-profit enterprise asking for community donations.
It is difficult to ascertain the true level of opposition to these downtown development efforts. (For one thing, some folks speculate that several of the most virulent Facebook critics are duplicate accounts, though that’s unclear.) What is clear is that the developers have the support of the elected officials, and there were no naysayers at the June 20 meeting, which included a lengthy Q&A session.
Amin said in a comment to a CityLife blog post that “people chose not to attend the panel discussion … because doing so would have aided the gentrifiers’ PR campaign.”
Meanwhile, Hsieh’s spokesperson for the Downtown Project dismissed foes of gentrification with a broad-brush quote, repurposed from Theodore Roosevelt and posted on Facebook, that called critics “cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
So far, Huntridge Revival LLC has raised more than $30,000 of its Indiegogo goal; it has a $50,000 payment to the owners, who most recently have used the location to store cut-rate furniture, due in August.
Buying the property would cost $4 million, Cornthwaite said at the meeting. He has said full rehabilitation could cost $15 million.
Supporters at the community meeting included gray-haired punk rockers and men and women too young to drink alcohol; moms and dads towing babies; real-estate agents rubbing elbows with tattooed local artists. It was, in short, a reflection of the diverse and engaged community of downtown and Huntridge-area residents.
Supporters included Brian “Paco” Alvarez, a curator and arts advocate who emceed the meeting. Alvarez is also an employee of Zappos. Also on board were the five members of the featured panel: Kathleen Kahr D’Esposito, president of the Huntridge Neighborhood Association; TV newsman Bob Stoldal, a longtime member of the Nevada Commission for Cultural Affairs in the State Historic Preservation Office; Nichole Sligar, a volunteer for Save the Huntridge, the ad-hoc group supporting the rehab effort; Dave McMahan, a Las Vegas musician whose band played the venue; and Cornthwaite.
And a number of people voiced their support during the half-hour question-and-answer period. The closest anyone came to criticism occurred when Las Vegas musician and artist Ginger Bruner, who has longstanding ties to the Huntridge and surrounding neighborhood, asked why Huntridge Revival was going forward as a for-profit venture. Her question sparked a small wave of applause; the question of for-profit versus nonprofit has divided some of those who want to see the theater resurrected.
Being a nonprofit, Bruner said, would get critics “off your back.”
A community activist and writer, Hektor Esparza, has proposed an effort that would bring together a nonprofit component with the existing for-profit corporation. Esparza’s proposal, which he described as a rough draft that he is discussing with the Huntridge Revival, also has been vetted by volunteers with the Huntridge Foundation, a nonprofit group that has been working for several years to support a rescue of the troubled theater. Melissa Clary, a foundation volunteer and past president of the Huntridge Neighborhood Association, said Esparza’s proposal has merit.
“Working in conjunction with a nonprofit will provide valuable resources and added connections to community, business and philanthropic contacts for Huntridge Revival,” Clary said. “The outlined proposal being discussed ensures the private entity will be held accountable as a positive community partner and neighbor — one which receives and requests input and also operates with the public well-being in mind.”
At the meeting, Cornthwaite and Vanas said they were open to the idea of a nonprofit entity to lead the work. “There’s only one plan and that’s to bring it back to life,” Cornthwaite told the crowd, and later, “I have nothing against nonprofits … I just want to keep every possibility, every avenue, open.”
The principals described the challenge that they face. Community member Cymbra Valenzuela asked the panel members to describe the condition of the existing structure. The response was far from positive.
“Maybe we should all just remember how it was at this point,” Cornthwaite suggested.
“Would anyone be offended by the word, ‘shit’?” Stodal asked.
Cornthwaite said there is no plumbing or running water, parts of the complex have been damaged by flooding, and floors and ceilings have been extensively damaged.
But despite all the neglect and destruction, “The structure itself looks good,” Vanas said, sparking another short round of applause.