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August 1, 2014

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Joe Downtown: Councilman exploring whether city can kick-start Huntridge fundraising effort

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Yasmina Chavez

Volunteer painters from Union #159 paint the Huntridge sign tower from a lift during the BYOB! Bring Your Own Brush community painting party, which is part of the Huntridge revitalization efforts, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013

Huntridge Theater Tour

Michael Cornthwaite gives Edythe Katz, one of the early owners of the the Huntridge Theater, a tour of the dilapidated theater Thursday, June 27, 2013. Launch slideshow »
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Bob Coffin

Map of Huntridge Theater

Huntridge Theater

1208 E. Charleston Blvd., Las Vegas

With potential private investors leery because of a pending lawsuit action against owners of historic Huntridge Theater, the city of Las Vegas is seeking $1 million to invest in the building itself.

Now 70 years old, the theater at Maryland Parkway and Charleston Boulevard is only one of the oldest standing structures in Las Vegas and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Last summer a group of private investors operating as Huntridge Revival LLC announced intentions to purchase the building, renovate it and open it with theaters, classrooms, restaurants and more. They figured it would take $4 million to buy the building and $11 million more to renovate it.

Huntridge Revival founders Michael Cornthwaite and Joey Vanas put out a prospectus seeking private investors. But Las Vegas Councilman Bob Coffin said a lawsuit looming over the project has caused would-be backers to pause.

The state sued earlier this year on behalf of the Nevada Commission for Cultural Affairs, saying theater owners received $1.3 million in grants in exchange for certain promises.

Those promises weren’t kept, the state alleges, so it wants its money back.

“The lawsuit hurt fundraising,” Coffin said. “I came up with this idea to get things off dead center if it looked like cash was needed to assist the group and help them get over the hump.”

Coffin’s idea is to ask the Commission for the Las Vegas Centennial for a $1 million grant. The commission’s financial reports showed it had $1.4 million in the bank at the end of fiscal 2013.

The commission is funded from fees on special license plates commemorating Las Vegas’ 100th anniversary. The money can be used for ““historical markers, tours of historic sites and improvements to or restoration of historic buildings.”

In his previous role as state senator, Coffin wrote the bill that created the license plate fund; it passed into law in 2001.

Coffin said using the money to help Huntridge Revival LLC purchase the theater was a “perfectly appropriate” use. However, he added, if the Centennial Commission approves the grant, the city won’t give the money to Huntridge Revival freely.

“It wouldn’t be a gift or a loan but ownership,” he said.

What form the city’s ownership might take, Coffin wasn’t sure.

Some ideas are being considered, including that Huntridge Revival LLC enter into a lease agreement with the city. Coffin said city staff was working out the details and he expected a clearer picture by 3 p.m. Monday, when the Centennial Commission is scheduled to meet in City Hall.

If the city got involved, it would “make a statement” to investors still sitting on the sidelines, said Scott Adams, Las Vegas chief urban redevelopment officer.

“The private sector may (then) be more willing to be involved,” he said.

Adams also said the city was looking into the possibility the state Cultural Affairs Commission might drop its lawsuit against the current owners if the city helps Huntridge Revival purchase the building.

The state agency’s “ultimate goal,” Adams noted, “is preservation.”

The suit against Eli Mizrachi, ECT Holding LLC and King George LLC alleges the defendants broke their covenant with the state by failing to:

“preserve (its) architectural, historical, cultural and/or archeological integrity; make no visual or structural alterations without prior permission; allow the Commission for Cultural Affairs to inspect the building “at all reasonable times”; be open to the public no less than 12 days per year; and publish a newspaper notice when the building closes for “CCA-assisted improvements.”

When Huntridge Revival announced its plans last year, it stirred an unforeseen community involvement. An online fundraising campaign that originally sought $150,000 brought in more than $200,000.

Later, hundreds of residents showed up to whitewash the neglected building, and several businesses promised donations of architectural, design, electrical,

lighting and other services totaling several hundred thousand dollars.

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