Sam Morris / Las Vegas News Bureau
Monday, Jan. 22, 2018 | 2 a.m.
In a large, empty plot of land near Desert Inn Road on Thursday afternoon, an art car scissor-lifted a platform of riders high up into the air. Below them, a group of performance artists largely adorned in leotards and masks playfully danced without music atop a large sculpture that looked like a rusted Iron Giant sinking into the pavement. This could have perplexed rush-hour passersby on the nearby I-15 — and they weren’t alone.
Plans for a 126,000-square foot retail/entertainment venture called Area 15 to be built on that very site were announced, but its managing partners are keeping details to a minimum. A preview center for the project, which is slated to break ground in April and open during the last half of 2019, revealed the various sections of the future complex, a couple of large-scale artworks and the signing of Area 15’s first tenant: Meow Wolf, the multimedia art crew responsible for Santa Fe’s popular House of Eternal Return exhibit.
But what exactly the endeavor is supposed to be — other than an “immersive and unique experience” that would “appeal to a variety of clientele, including gamers, comic-con and sci-fi enthusiasts, artists, music and festival lovers,” as touted in its marketing — remains unknown. Which, of course, is by design.
“Area 15 will be a radical reimagination of entertainment and retail for the 21st century,” said Winston Fisher of Fisher Brothers, one of the two New York-based companies behind the joint venture (Beneville Studios creative agency is the other). “We’ve created a place with leasing for tenants that offer experience.”
“The mall of America isn’t dead,” Michael Beneville of Beneville Studios later added. “It just needs to be reinvented. People don’t want to be spoon-fed their entertainment. They want to interact with it.”
Area 15 is expected to be populated with amusement attractions like escape rooms and virtual reality, along with art exhibitions, bars, food options, themed events, live events from concerts to Ted Talks, and festivals—some of which will be offered in the 32,000-square-foot outdoor event space.
Meow Wolf, whose art projects incorporate narrative and fantasy (and have been partially funded by Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin), will have three times the capacity for its Las Vegas exhibit than it has for the one in New Mexico. CEO Vince Kadlubek didn’t spill too much about what might fill that space, though local artists are expected to be among the contributors.
“We want to create the most incredible new media experience in the US,” Kadlubek said.
Local artist/designer Henry Chang will have his highly detailed, stainless steel Flux Capacitor art car stationed — and driving people around — Area 15 when it opens.
And lest any cynics were listening, Fisher reassured his audience that “this is happening,” adding that money has been secured for the entire project. For once, the real mystery might not be whether something will open, but what that something will actually be.