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August 21, 2014

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Joe Downtown: Volunteer painters chip in to make the Huntridge shine

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Yasmina Chavez

The crowd gathers around the stage for an announcement during the BYOB! Bring Your Own Brush community painting party, which is part of the Huntridge revitalization efforts, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013

Huntridge ‘BYOB’ Painting Party

A volunteer helps paint during the BYOB! Bring Your Own Brush community painting party, which is part of the Huntridge revitalization efforts, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013 Launch slideshow »

In February, Nicole Phillips moved from her apartment on the outskirts of the city to downtown Las Vegas in February for one reason: She wanted to be part of what’s happening down here.

On Saturday morning, she proved it with a brush and some white paint.

Phillips was one of an early-morning crowd volunteering to paint the exterior of the historic Huntridge Theater, at the corner of Maryland Parkway and Charleston Boulevard.

Phillips, a bartender and audio-video technician, sat cross-legged on the concrete on the east end of the building Saturday morning, rolling paint up and down the brick wall.

“I moved downtown to be part of events like this,” she said.

To be part of what, the “community”?

Phillips laughed at the question because it is used so often these days as a supportive mantra for anyone and anything that moves or happens downtown, especially since Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh started invoking the word as the top priority for his $350 million Downtown Project redevelopment agency.

“I didn’t want to use that word,” Phillips said. “But yes, I really want to be a part of that.”

So did about 100 others Saturday morning, and that was only a few hours into a 10-hour paintfest, an all-volunteer job to cover a cancerous-looking exterior with white paint. On Sunday, black trim will be added.

The paint job is just a step on the way to renovating the 69-year-old building. Event planner Joey Vanas and downtown bar/restaurant owner Michael Cornthwaite formed Huntridge Revival LLC earlier this year with the goal of saving the building from what many felt would be the wrecking ball after state-granted, historic designation protections end in a few years.

Earlier this year, they raised more than $200,000 for initial preservation steps — ground testings, architectural renderings and more — plus many thousands of dollars of promises for volunteer services through an Internet-based crowdfunding project.

By the end of the year, they need to raise roughly $4 million to propel the renovation forward.

At the site in a Color Run T-shirt, Vanas said financial and legal terms have been worked out, meaning the group will begin the process of securing funding. Not that talks haven’t already been underway.

Councilman Bob Coffin, who painted a wall section with his wife, Mary Hausch, and whose ward includes the theater, said “a lot of private discussions are going on about how to make it happen.”

Vanas, who lives just a few blocks from the theater, beamed as he looked at volunteers rolling and stroking the walls with white. “Every time I drive past, it’s an eyesore and I’ve been tempted to just grab paint and brush and do it.”

Volunteers stuck to those parts of the building reachable by foot, with some help here and there from a ladder. A cherry picker foisted painter apprentices from District Council 15 Painters Local Union 159 to spray-paint the theater’s 75-foot iconic tower. Jeff Vaughn, apprentice coordinator for the union, said about 33 apprentices were volunteering during the two-day event.

Vanas said LVI Services Inc. volunteered lead abatement assistance before the paint job, requiring about 300 gallons of paint, began. Others volunteering services were Sun State Components of Nevada, The PENTA Building Group and Keith McCoy, an event organizer in charge of the volunteers.

McCoy got choked up when asked why the Huntridge Theater meant so much to him. He said he grew up in Las Vegas and the Huntridge in the ’80s and ’90s was the only place kids were able to see up-and-coming bands without traveling to Los Angeles.

“There’s not a lot of things in Las Vegas that can really get under your skin,” he said. “I don’t smoke, drink or gamble. For me, it’s music. This place was my venue; it had the best acoustics. ... (Growing up) it seems like I was here every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.”

Now a father of five, he lives outside the urban core but feels a connection to downtown and to this building. “What’s going on downtown is amazing,” he said.

Noting that some of the volunteer painters are from Henderson, Summerlin and other areas distant from the urban core, McCoy said it’s because so many people grew up close to the theater and moved away but still feel that connection.

Others who didn’t grow up here, such as Amber “Clover” Corby, 33, raised in Hawaii and now living in Henderson, knows the Las Vegas lore of imploding its history enough that she wanted to support the movement to save the Huntridge.

“It seems like people from other cities go back home and can point to this place or that place from their childhood and say, ‘I used to go there,’ but in Las Vegas, so much of that is gone,” she said.

A covenant signed years ago with the state has prevented attempts to demolish the Huntridge. The pact ends in 2017.

Sitting with her roller brush, Phillips seemed confident the Huntridge Theater is here to stay, especially with events like this one taking place.

“It takes something like this painting to get people to take notice,” she said. “We’re telling everybody that people care and are taking care of this place.”

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover Downtown; he lives and works there. He is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded Downtown journalist, stationed at an office in Emergency Arts. His work appears in the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly.

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