Las Vegas Sun

April 26, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

City Council’s decision further brands Las Vegas as kid-unfriendly


Bill Hughes

Keith Milgaten, left, and Mike Griffin of Jamuel Saxon play at the Junkyard during Neon Reverb.

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

Until they can score a fake ID, there’s not much for kids to do in this town. Las Vegas is like most American communities that way, but gambling and alcohol are central to life here, making the problem even worse.

So it’s a shame the Las Vegas City Council went out of its way last month to impede Tim Thurtle’s two-year effort to open an all-ages music venue. Thurtle was temporarily operating an outdoor venue called the Junkyard at 708 S. First St. He’d received special event permits while looking for a permanent indoor location elsewhere downtown.

The problem is that the licensing for all-ages music venues is strict. You can tell from the introduction to the city code that regulates them, with language right out of “Footloose”: “The City Council finds that the businesses of conducting teenage dances and operating teenage dancehalls ... seriously affect the social and moral well being of the City ...”

The most onerous requirement is that the venue must reside at least 500 feet from any establishment that serves or sells alcohol or any sex-related business. (The codes in other local jurisdictions are equally stringent.) Try going 500 feet in Las Vegas — especially downtown — without running into alcohol or sex businesses. The ordinance extends to buildings that share a roof with the proposed venue, so you couldn’t have your teen dance hall in a mall if the mall has a Chili’s that serves margaritas.

Understandably, fire codes are also strict, especially in the older buildings downtown. And applicants are subject to a rigorous background check by Metro Police.

“It’s basically impossible to open a venue for kids,” Thurtle said to me in frustration. Not surprisingly, there are none.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. If you operate as a religious or educational institution, you can skate the ordinance. Or the kids just have shows at their houses, no doubt rifling through their parents’ liquor cabinets in the process.

Click to enlarge photo

Zeke Buck of VHS or Beta plays at the Junkyard during Neon Reverb.

The City Council denied Thurtle’s request for a special event permit that would allow him to continue operating no more than seven times a month while he found a permanent, indoor home. City Councilman Bob Coffin, who represents the ward where the temporary venue sits, said he was persuaded by noise complaints from neighbors. The proposed concerts would have ended at 10 p.m. at the latest, so I find this a little baffling. For some people, it seems property rights mean I can force you to speak in a whisper.

In frustration, Thurtle withdrew his application for the dance hall license.

So, either Thurtle is inept or his story epitomizes the struggles of dealing with the red tape of our local governments, especially when it comes to kid-related businesses. The Clark County Planning Commission denied his dance hall license on West Oquendo Road, near Decatur Boulevard and Russell Road, where he has a skate park. The County Commission also denied the license. Even getting the skate park open — without the music venue — has been a struggle, as he still hasn’t obtained a building permit.

In any case, Thurtle’s failed all-ages venue is a bummer. A real urban environment, which downtown Las Vegas aspires to be, should mix people of different backgrounds and ages. If you go to New York, you’ll see kids on the subway. It teaches them independence and how to act in public, and it keeps us young.

Cloistering kids in the suburbs doesn’t make them — or us — any safer. It bores them, which makes them want to get a bottle of cheap alcohol and some weed and drive around. Raise your hand if you know what I’m talking about.

Thurtle was blunt: “Las Vegas is not a kid-friendly city.” By this he meant local government, but later he noted that our entire community’s view of kids borders on paranoia: “This is the perception of kids — alcohol, graffiti, madness. Not all kids are bad, man.”

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  1. isn't 708 1st street a commercial zoned area? how are there 10 PM noise complaints? Seriously, the "social and moral" wellbeing clause placed before so many ordinances makes Metro and the City Council think they have a blank check to engineer what they think is socially and morally fitting. Look, gambling, drinking and sex aren't moral to some, yet this is the town we created and live in. If you want to become Footloose, KS, just be upfront about it - otherwise get out of the way of business, entrepreneurship and innovation unless you can SHOW specifically how it will hurt the community. It's not an impossible task. Some things really DONT fit under any stretch. Some things really are DESTRUCTIVE. A teen night club is not one of those things.

  2. The city council is right. Until Coolican has actually had to deal with an event like this and see what happens when you get a bunch of teens together I 'll take his opinion with a grain of salt because that all it's worth.

  3. An economist's analysis of the current economic situation posits why some cities thrive in these conditions and others don't.

    The cities that are thriving despite unfavorable economic trends include San Francisco, Seattle, Cleveland, and Austin. The reasons? Innovation and the availability of an educated workforce.

    The innovations in Las Vegas? - how to make more billions for the likes of Wynn and Adelson - to spend as they please. Lottery? Speed train? Schools? Nah - they benefit only the people! They don't need to go to school to clean casinos, park cars, or to serve food and drinks? They do not need to go anywhere? They should stay and serve!

    Yeah - it's their money and people give it to them freely! Oh, you get entertainment for a few minutes then you give it to them willingly!

    The loneliness of man is big business. That is why the entertainment industry is booming.

    Innovation? Nah... too involved!

  4. This whole schtick about protecting kids, or even that the City Council is just following the rules is complete and total B.S. It's all about money and how the casinos don't want to loose any to independent promotors and venues.

    Exhibit A: The Stratosphere Tower. Residents complained about possible future noise problems and then when they became real by having carnival rides and screams late into the night being heard by residents in the surrounding neighborhoods. Did the city or county do anything? No.

    Exhibit B: The Palms Tower. Every Friday and Saturday night, Ghostbar and Moon @ Palms blast loud music and thundering bass well into the night that along with patrons can be heard by residents as far north as Sahara Ave. Does the city or county do anything? No.

    Exhibit C: The Huntridge Theatre operated for decades in Las Vegas as an all-ages venue. Everyone from Jerry Lewis to Green Day has played there to all-ages crowds and no one ever had a problem. But are they open now? No. Has the city or county done anything to help with the preservation or restoration efforts? No. Why? Because unlike other surplus property that only serves as a non-functioning museum, The Huntridge can still function as a fully operating, all-ages venue as it has done in the past, and that scares the hell out of casinos.

    Since the Huntridge Closed, bands and all ages acts have had to hold shows at Casinos. And as such we've seen ticket prices skyrocket to double or triple the price as to what they were before The Huntridge closed. We're talking 1990's dollars, not present day. So the casinos are making money. But it's not about ticket prices.

    What happens when mom and dad drop-off their kids at the Huntridge? They go home until the show is done. What happens when the concert is held at a casino? Mom and Dad will succumb to that temptation and throw away cash at the slot machines. Casinos know this and have always ensured that their competition has been crushed whenever possible. That is why the efforts to restore and bring back The Huntridge have quietly failed, and why people like Thurtle will never be allowed to make it here in Vegas.

    If the City and County were really intent on upholding the law to protect kids, and I mean UNWAVERING in this effort, then WHY do they allow Disney on Ice and Ringling Brothers Circus to perform at the Orleans area? It's a building that is not only within 500 feet of an establishment that serves alcohol, but is also connected by a roof. Why is The Orleans allowed to skate the law? Why are all-ages venues such as Brendan Movie Theatres and others allowed to operate inside of casinos like the Palms? Why are we not shutting these places down?

    If we're going to enforce the rules, I say we not only enforce them equally across the board, but we make everyone accountable, and we may everyone pay for their wrongdoing. If Thurtle can't have an all-ages venue, then no one should be allowed to, including casinos.

  5. Duh! Kids have no money...

  6. Top Gun:

    Yeah. Let us hail Adelson and Wynn for their humanity!

    They keep building casinos so that people will have jobs - cleaning, parking, serving. What noble goals!

    And they are doing it because they care!

  7. If casinos wanted you to have kids they would have issued them to you when you moved to Nevada.

  8. Robert Hess and the city council are wrong.

  9. "The City Council finds that the businesses of conducting teenage dances and operating teenage dancehalls ... seriously affect the social and moral well being of the City ..."

    Coolican -- ooooo, this is gonna be fun, but after I get some stuff done this morning. The obvious point again -- government has no legitimate interest in passing laws about "social and moral well being of" anyone or anything. As if anyone can define that in a way that could survive the fundamental "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" test.

    "Seriously, the "social and moral" wellbeing clause placed before so many ordinances makes Metro and the City Council think they have a blank check to engineer what they think is socially and morally fitting."

    40_years -- very well put

    "This whole schtick about protecting kids, or even that the City Council is just following the rules is complete and total B.S. It's all about money and how the casinos don't want to loose any to independent promotors and venues."

    DMCVegas -- good history lesson!

    "Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual." -- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Isaac H Tiffany (1819)

  10. Yes, I agree that teens should have access to cool events. But why not offer solutions JP?
    I did enjoy the comment about "The cities that are thriving despite unfavorable economic trends include San Francisco, Seattle, Cleveland, and Austin. The reasons? Innovation and the availability of an educated workforce." I'll let my friends know they shouldn't be unemployed in San Francisco.
    We also know that the Lotto is a scam as they don't provide much funding to schools. A speed train? I would much rather see these billions of dollars go to keeping new teachers employed so that these teens we care so much about can have a realistic chance at reaching their goals later in life.

  11. Thank you Top Gun. I'd rather be an idiot with principles than a mindless robot.

    That's what happens when we run out of arguments. We use calling names.

    Thank you for showing everyone who you are. I could not have done better myself.

  12. Sadness: At least you achieved your goal, time after time. Almost anyone can have kids and demand things be given to them. Few people can achieve business and/or financial success through legal means. Oh, it's great to be a parent if you understand that it is YOUR responsibility to raise and educate your kids. But that takes nothing from those who also pursue business. You don't like it, there are other places you can go.

  13. @manfromuncle1

    No doubt it's influenced things. Who knows why that casinos/resorts charge so much. But just look at any act that is on tour in the U.S. and compare the ticket prices to when they perform in Vegas (or other casinos) compared to venues on other cities. It's on average about $20-$50 MORE for the Vegas show than the ones in other cities. And the influence they have over the acts is quite apparent too, especially with the Broadway shows that have to edit their performances for time to keep things around 90 minutes to get people back out onto the casino floor. No doubt at all that Vegas has quite negatively influenced the type of performers that come into town. Even when Mitzi Shore opened up The Main Room @ The Comedy Store in Hollywood, it wasn't utilized for a very long time as the acts it was meant to attract were afraid of loosing their Vegas gigs because of the close proximity. The Smith Center is nice and all and it's got a great purpose to it. But I wouldn't exactly hold my breath that it's going to be allowed to serve it's purpose thanks to casinos who want to grab every dollar they can.

    @Roslenda (Roberta Anderson)

    Guess what? As much as everyone likes to tout wealth "trickling down", it also has to trickle back up as well. You want to tell people that if they don't like things that they can just leave? Guess what, sister, people have done just that. Mesquite has been the first to fall by chasing away the next couple of generations of those children that you hate, who also by the way grow up to be taxpayers. So without them nearby, Mesquite's financial situation has gone into the toilet. Voters demanding money for senior activities while taking away programs for kids led to families and their tax revenue leaving, resulting in the financial dire straights the city is in. And now North Las Vegas may even go bankrupt and be taken over by the state! And now thanks to depleted water revenues we see businesses closing. But no you're oh so right. We should totally tell people with kids to leave here.

  14. @Roslenda (Roberta Anderson):

    Keep telling people if they don't like it, they should leave, and you might get what you wish for. A whole bunch of business owners, but no customers. Buh-bye.

  15. I understand why ASadTeacher (Nancy Agustin) is so self-named after reading her narrow and juvenile retort.

    I would ask her: How many people do you employ and what solution do you offer?