Wednesday, March 2, 2005 | 11:03 a.m.
Frank Gehry, the man Time magazine has heralded as "the world's most famous living architect," has been hired to design an Alzheimer's research center on part of the vacant 61 acres in downtown Las Vegas.
Larry Ruvo, senior managing director of Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada and the driving force behind the $35 million center that is to be built at Union Park on Bonneville Avenue across from the Clark County Government Center, said the contracts that brought Gehry on board were signed last Thursday.
Ground is expected to be broken by Aug. 4 for the 35,000-square-foot Lou Ruvo Alzheimer's Center -- named for Larry's father who died of the degenerative disease in 1994. Announcement of the commissioning of Gehry was to be made today.
Gehry, the master of the deconstructive aesthetic style of architecture, has designed some of the world's most artistic buildings. They include the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Bilbao, Spain; the Experience Music Project in Seattle; the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles; and the Vitra Design Museum in Weil-am-Rhine, Germany.
"I went to the Bilbao museum and saw how just that one project changed the demographics of that entire industrial city," said Ruvo, who is in partnership in the project with Mirage Resorts Group President Bobby Baldwin, who also lost his father to Alzheimer's.
"People from all over the world went there specifically to look at the Gehry building. Although Las Vegas already attracts people from all over the world, the prestige of having a Gehry-designed building will enhance the visit for many of them. This will open a huge new chapter in the history of our city."
Ruvo, who first came to Las Vegas from upstate New York in 1954 on a train that stopped at Union Plaza, a golf ball's drive from where the center named for his father will be built, met with Gehry in the architect's Santa Monica, Calif., offices in November to begin negotiations to design the Alzheimer's facility.
"A number of people in Las Vegas have approached Frank Gehry about building their projects, mostly casinos, but he has declined," Ruvo said.
Jim Glymph, a partner in the firm of Gehry & Krueger Inc., said it was Ruvo's desire that impressed his company to sign on.
"I think there is a heart to this project," Glymph said. "Larry Ruvo is very passionate about what he is trying to accomplish. And he is very persuasive.
"We have an approach to design that is not right for everybody. We weigh whether we believe the project will be a good fit for potential clients."
Glymph said the company will be talking with Las Vegas planners and others, and reviewing the Las Vegas master plan, to determine "the sensibility of what this building will represent."
He said that Ruvo's and the city's desire to get the Alzheimer's center up and operating as quickly as possible will be a factor in producing the design plans. But he said it is too early to tell whether such plans could be completed to coincide with the planned groundbreaking in five months.
Ruvo has said he wants to start construction of the center on Aug. 4 because that was his father's birthday.
While the Alzheimer's center will be Gehry's first building in Las Vegas, it will not be his first design venture here. In 2001, he did the artistic design for "The Art of the Motorcycle" exhibit in the Guggenheim Las Vegas museum at the Venetian.
News of Gehry designing a Las Vegas building was greeted with optimism by a local architectural industry leader.
"I think this means everything for Las Vegas," said Las Vegas architect Paul Steelman, who has designed casinos worldwide for Harrah's, Caesars, MGM Mirage and others, and currently is building the Las Vegas Sands Macau.
"Obtaining a world-renowned signature architect who focuses on design as an artform is unbelievable. Las Vegas history will turn on this. Your great-great-grandchildren will not see this building imploded."
Steelman, who did the architectural design for the final Desert Inn renovation before the fabled resort was demolished to make room for the soon-to-open Wynn Las Vegas, said Southern Nevada has lost many of its early buildings to demolition because the town was young and growing.
But, he said, having a building designed by one of the modern legends in his field could usher in more permanency to future structures that would be built in what is now a more established community.
"This will create the potential for property owners and developers who see that great architecture has a lasting ability to affect its surroundings and environment in a positive way," Steelman said.
"This is great news not only for our architectural community but also for our art community because this is one of the biggest art announcements here in years. Frank Gehry is an innovator of shape, mass, color, texture and of the use of daylight in buildings."
Preliminary plans for Union Park off Grand Central Parkway include high-rise condominiums, office buildings, a performing arts center and an academic medical center, of which the Alzheimer's facility would be a major component for education, research and outpatient care.
Also there is a possibility that a hotel and casino will be built there, as well as a baseball stadium -- both resurrections of earlier plans that were discarded.
The Alzheimer's center will be built on one acre of Union Park and is expected to open in 2007, Ruvo said, noting that to date about $20 million has been raised to build it.
Plans are for the center to include 13 examination rooms, offices for health care practitioners, exhibition space, a 1,500-square-foot museum of the mind and a 2,500-square-foot auditorium.