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May 5, 2015

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A curator’s vision for a Neonopolis revival

At a time when Harry Reid actually believes “when the dust settles the Republicans will no longer want to stop everything and we’ll work together” and Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval thinks he can balance a budget that’s $3 billion short without A) raising taxes, and B) starting a new Stone Age, I don’t feel even slightly sheepish about indulging another crazy dreamer.

Brian Paco Alvarez is a local curator who has worked on many historical exhibits. He’s a vocal and visible booster of downtown and, useful for the purposes of this discussion, a member of the Liberace Foundation’s board. As you may have heard, the Liberace people had a little problem recently.

Likewise, Wayne Newton has run into trouble with his plans to build a museum in his honor on Sunset Road. Residents of the area have opposed it and the Paradise Town Advisory Board has recommended against it. (The Clark County Commission will take up the matter Nov. 17.)

Why not, Alvarez reasons, pile the Liberace collection, the Newton museum and a critical mass of other entertainment memorabilia into an otherwise useless downtown eyesore — Neonopolis, in case you hadn’t guessed — then pack in some interactive attractions and create an entire complex devoted to the history of Las Vegas entertainment?

“This has been swimming in my brain for a while,” he says.

Yeah, I know. Crazy idea. Who is this guy, anyway? Etc., etc. But think about it for a sec. For one thing, there would be no shortage of stuff. Alvarez ticks off a few collections he’d like to see in there: Liberace and Newton, of course, plus Siegfried & Roy, David Copperfield, the nascent gaming history museum, the Burlesque Hall of Fame. Plus miscellaneous Rat Packery, material from some of the comedians who’ve lived here — who among us doesn’t want to see what Redd Foxx kept in his rumpus room? — and maybe even a square foot or two devoted to Jumpsuit Elvis.

It’s the mass that’s important. Celebrity attractions are cool, but — see: Liberace — as interest in a star wanes, so does his or her revenue-generating ability. “I look at what Wayne Newton is doing with a little concern,” Alvarez says. “It’s like a repeat. In the end, even Wayne Newton’s star will fade.”

Together, they can help each other. For tourists lukewarm about a long drive to see Liberace’s rhinestones, the chance to ogle a Siegfried costume or Copperfield’s blow dryer might get them to go. Not to mention that, properly curated, a facility like this could be a strong and useful history of Las Vegas entertainment.

On top of all that, it would at long last give Neonopolis a reason to exist.

Since it opened in 2002, with stores, a food court and a movie multiplex, among other amenities, Neonopolis has dwindled through a series of stalled Big Ideas — when’s the last time anyone believed Star Trek: The Experience will actually open there? — to the intermittent sputter of activity you see there now. That’s left a sad void in what should be one of downtown’s key spots.

“Some people see it as an eyesore,” he says. “I see it as having potential. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to see that building sitting empty.”

There is potential in the location, if not the building itself. On one side is the tourist cacophony of the Fremont Street Experience; on the other, the lively bounce of the East Fremont district. Since Las Vegas entertainment is local and international, presumably the complex would complement both sides.

“It can’t be a mall,” Alvarez says of Neonopolis. “People aren’t interested in malls. You want a mall, go to the Fashion Show. Every hotel has a mall. People are interested in attractions.”

Of course, as with bipartisan unity in Congress and smooth budgeting in Carson City, it ain’t likely to happen. Too many large, impractical hurdles. The building itself is an architectural trauma; and the current owner, Wirrulla Hayward, fronted by the colorful Rohit Joshi, hasn’t proven able to make much progress with the property. If anything galvanizing is to happen there, my guess is it’ll be under a different owner.

And then we can unveil Museumopolis.

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  1. Scott, get used to seeing "empty buildings," as Las Vegas progresses into Las Vacancy. (not my sound it somewhere)

    But if the sign fits, wear it, right?

    As this financial "lock-down" continues to breed investment paranoia & a greater legacy of debt, the doors of opportunity will continue to shut, one by one.

    There a those fervent few, who believe that Las Vegas will do a Phoenix and rise from its ashes.

    But I don't think so. Time is running out and nothing new & promising is on the horizon...just dark clouds.

    Las Vegas' epitaph will likely be something like..."This city was a Wynn-win scenario...and then Wynn left town."

  2. Now we are on to something, take that space and turn it into an area for the people
    1. The Pinball Museum
    2. Liberace Foundation Museum
    3.Wayne Newton Museum
    4. Siegfried & Roy museum
    There are 4 spaces filled up right on the spot !
    The more you create the more senergy that will be created,,
    The neon in there is amazing
    what a great idea !

  3. Neonopolis. A classic example of what happens when government meddles in the private sector by "investing" tax dollars. The place was, is and will remain a dump. What did Las Vegas taxpayers get for their "investment?" Millions of tax dollars flushed down the drain, a plethora of lawsuits and a building that stands mostly forlorn, dingy and empty. Some deal we got for our money!

  4. The ignorance of the Democrat Liberal planners caused the decay of Las Vegas. Behind the failed Neonopolis, seen overshadowing it, is a huge condo next to El Cortez, that has sat empty since it was built.

    The Democrats Liberals thought rich people would move to the ghetto. They were wrong.

    Down the street on Fremont Street and again on Maryland Parkway, a block from Fremont street are two condos that look like multi-color painted Arkansas pig farms with tin siding advertising $200-$300,000 ghetto homes that nobody is interested in. Again, they were wrong.

    The list of failed projects is longer than Oscar Goodman's crooked arm. So much for "downtown redevelopment." Wrong, the people didn't want it.

    That's what you get when stupid government leaders mess with free enterprise business.

    Instead of dumping all those pet projects of Oscar's and Gary Reese, and lowering taxes these crooks want to bury Las Vegas because of their ignorance.

    That's all the dying downtown Las Vegas needs is more ghetto trash designed by stupid politicians at taxpayer's expense.

  5. Actually, I think it's a rather brilliant idea.

  6. It sounds like a really good idea to me. Las Vegas has a lot of history to put on display, and the good part is, most of it is colorful, both literally and figuratively!

    We can whine about Neonopolis or we can try and make it better. Looks to me like someone has a great idea on how it could be made better.

  7. Excellent Idea. I too have been wrapping my head around what could be done with this existing infrastructure and the museum idea is a perfect repurposing.

    It is also a natural transition from the Fremont Experience to the developing cultural hub East of Las Vegas Blvd.

  8. It me be a good idea. With tickets sold to all downtown Museums for one price. Currently the building looks like a fortress and must be opened up to attract anyone.

  9. I had no clue that the Southern Nevada Museaum of Fine Art was located there. Thanks for the info.
    For those of you that think Las Vegas sucks, please leave.

  10. How about making the Fountainbleu house all the Las Vegas stuff. Something has to be done with that building first!

  11. Suggesting Neonopolis be re-invented as a cultural spot = Interesting and thought-provoking idea from an active participant in Las Vegas life.

    Thinking up new ways to say "the end of Las Vegas is imminent and the sky is falling" = Tired and terribly pedestrian 100-year-old anti-Vegas rant.

  12. Great Idea...

    It's unfortunate that the landlord cares less about Neonopolis and Las Vegas than even Mr. Harrison does.

  13. It sounds like a good idea. Like a food court of Las Vegas entertainment history.

    Get enough attractions there to make a tourist visit a must.

    The Ad Nauseum of Fine Art obviously won't draw the them.

    I would think even the Fremont street casino operators would get behind this idea.

  14. Thanks, Cliff. I've been wondering who owns all those steel skeletons, partly finished, and finished and empty buildings all over town. Now, I know (from Cliff) that they are all owned by Democrats. Not casinos, not real estate investors, not property developers, not shopping mall owners or operators, but those (socialist, national socialist, anti-capitalist) Democrats. It must have been the same pesky Democrats that said "build it and they will come." It had to be the Democrats. Because if it wasn't the Democrats, it must have been a failure of free markets, which Cliff knows absotively posilutely cannot happen, because free markets are always perfect and can never, ever make mistakes or go haywire. No siree! It was Democrats that caused the housing bubble, the dot-com bubble, the savings and loan bubble, the Great Depression, every previous financial panic, ... the South Sea Bubble, and the Tulip Craze. All those examples of markets gone wild were just black ops by Democrats -- even before there were Democrats.

    Now I'm not a big fan of "planning" as it has been practiced in Southern Nevada, but I think I know how to link real causes to real effects. The empty buildings around town can be traced to two fundamental causes: 1. the nature of humans as herd or pack animals, and 2. the decline of wealth and GDP. The first cannot be changed. The second was the result of human weakness and bad policies on a National scale. As to those policy errors, let it be sufficient to say that the other Party of the two was in power when they were made.

    Southern Nevada has a long, hard road ahead in digging out from this mess. One very creative way to do that is to turn empty space into a tourist attraction. In this case, the proposal is to use Neonapolis -- a particularly egregious example of bad planning by private companies and bad planning and fiscal stupidity by public entities. It is an inspired idea. Whether it can be good business remains to be seen.

  15. "The empty buildings around town can be traced to two fundamental causes: 1. the nature of humans as herd or pack animals, and 2. the decline of wealth and GDP. The first cannot be changed. The second was the result of human weakness and bad policies on a National scale. As to those policy errors, let it be sufficient to say that the other Party of the two was in power when they were made."

    Yes, sir, Mister Goodman.

    1. People of means who can afford to purchase a $200,000 plus apartment don't herd or follow the pack to the ghetto to live. Never have, never will. They instead run from such downturn in their neighborhood.

    2. The party that was in power was a Democrat Congress.


    3. Vegas was the number one boomtown in America for twenty years. What happen to all that growth had nothing to do with national economics, but local political stupidity and greedy powers that be.

    4. ""and bad planning and fiscal stupidity by public entities. It is an inspired idea. Whether it can be good business remains to be seen."
    A: Well, isn't that what I said? (Then"it remains to be seen.) I think that is the point, because the people who are not stupid in this community doesn't like the idea of politicians gambling with their money.

    5. NEXT!