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Joe Downtown: Volunteers share load in ‘do-acracy’ to move along effort to save historic theater

Updated Friday, June 14, 2013 | 11:54 a.m.

Huntridge volunteers

A to-do board lists the tasks facing volunteers who are banding together behind the effort to save the Huntridge Theater. Launch slideshow »

Many times over the past decade or more, taxpayers and individuals have tried to save the Huntridge Theater.

Nevada has given more than $1 million to, among other repairs, fix its caved-in roof.

Yet, for almost a decade, the place has remained in mothballs and fallen further into disrepair. Even the most stalwart historians seemed to abandon hope of saving the building, for one, because it’s so large, and secondly because of the enormous cost to do so.

But then, most historians aren’t David Anderson. Or Chris O’Connell, Nicole Sligar, Melissa Clary, Brian “Paco” Alvarez, Kathleen D’Esposito Kahr or a group of others who have thrown themselves into the thankless task of volunteering their time to bring the Huntridge back to life.

The group gathered Wednesday in what might be called, at least for the next 33 days, “volunteer house,” on Franklin Avenue between Sixth and Seventh streets. This is where they meet, sometimes until late in the morning, strategizing and clicking away on laptops in an effort to get others motivated about renewing the Huntridge.

Wednesday after work they went over plans in the main room of the house where David Anderson lives. Anderson, a veteran of crowdfunding, which is the Huntridge’s early fundraising plan, moved here in December from San Francisco. Raised in tiny Hurricane, Utah, he gravitates to places with a community feel.

“Why am I doing this?” says Anderson, a 30-year-old who maintains a skin-and-bones look despite living on a diet he admits consists mostly of pizza. “Just seeing what this neighborhood could be if the Huntridge really becomes this revered place again and is locally accessible. I came from San Francisco, where people are used to small, awesome venues and communities are based on them.”

Behind him is a 10-foot-long dry erase board filled with assignments, ideas and goals: Site Redo — Publicize Video — Finalize Message — Email Campaign, and so on. It’s a huge list that fills the entire wall.

Anderson calls the form of management used to get things done a “do-acracy,” where someone sees something that needs to be done and they just do it. And they have to get it done by July 17, which will allow enough time for the online crowdsourcing campaign money to be calculated, collected and turned over to Huntridge Revival LLC to meet an Aug. 1 loan payment.

“But it’s becoming clear everyone is getting overwhelmed,” he adds. “We’re lucky, though, because we have one of the most active neighborhood associations in the city working on it.”

D’Esposito Kahr, Huntridge Neighborhood Association president, works as the back-office manager of Casa di Amore, an Italian restaurant at Eastern and Tropicana avenues. He is talking about some of the doubting comments found online.

One question that has been raised is why the three founders of Huntridge Revival LLC — Michael Cornthwaite, Joey Vanas and Rehan Choudry — didn’t form a nonprofit organization before collecting donations. Their goal is $150,000 because that’s 1 percent of the $15 million expected to buy and renovate the building. They have said if they can’t draw that degree of public support — believed necessary to show those with deep pockets that the theater is a good investment — they will drop the project.

The three bring a lengthy background in development and event programming to the project. Cornthwaite has been one of downtown’s most important redevelopers, having taken unused space to create the Downtown Cocktail Room, Emergency Arts and the Beat. He is also a partner in Oscar’s, a steakhouse in the Plaza. Vanas and Choudry have extensive experience in venue development, programming and operations.

In previous interviews, Cornthwaite has that said to wait a year or more to become a certified nonprofit would mean the loss of valuable time. A covenant with the state prevents demolition but only until 2017.

Anderson says Huntridge Revival LLC is an example of a “social enterprise,” whose motive is toward the social good, not the bottom line.

“Nevada doesn’t have a statute like they do in California to create a social enterprise, but this LLC is the closest thing to doing that,” he says.

Their goal is $150,000, which will go towards the next deposit, renovation planning and legal work needed for the $4 million purchase. It’s also 1 percent of the $15 million expected to buy and renovate the building. They have said if they can’t draw that degree of public support – believed necessary to show those with deep pockets that the theater is a good investment – they will drop the project.

The doorbell rings and someone delivers three large pizzas from D’Esposito Kahr’s employer. For free.

“We should just start making furniture out of our pizza boxes,” jokes O’Connell, the graphics whiz.

Sitting with her 1-year-old, Chloe, Sligar, who doesn’t live downtown but worked at the Huntridge in her early 20s, sits quietly. She’s the volunteer coordinator who, like the others, threw herself into volunteering because of her affinity for the old building.

“For three years, I was there almost every day; sometimes I slept there,” says Sligar, whose background includes a fairly recent stint in a Shaolin temple in China. It was a move made, Sligar says, because she wanted to learn the ways of kung fu. At that point, someone adds, “and walk the Earth, like Caine.” Sligar chuckles.

“I’m honored to be a part of this, really,” she says. “It’s just so cool we have people here creating this team. It’s like family.”

There’s talk about getting salons involved in something maybe called “Haircuts for Huntridge” to raise money, and a community forum June 20 to let people ask questions of and voice concerns to a panel that can answer them.

Vanas sits and listens, mostly with a smile on his face. He lives across the street and says he’ll sometimes come home early in the morning and see the lights on with people working away inside.

He and his partners released more details about how the theater would be used if renovation happens. Not only would it be used for live music, performing arts and cinema, but Vanas said they were in early discussions about including a music education facility, a permanent exhibit curated by the nonprofit Huntridge Foundation and “flexible-use spaces for community-driven programming.”

“We need both,” he said, when asked what’s more important: numbers of people contributing to demonstrate a real desire for the theater to be renovated or reaching the $150,000 goal.

“The reality is that we’ve received a ton of excitement and momentum, but we’ve reached a point where we need the additional startup capital required to move forward,” he said. “Without local community buy-in, it just won’t happen.”

More information about how to make monetary or in-kind contributions to the Huntridge effort may be found online.

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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