The three-story building at 601 E. Fremont, at the edge of Downtown’s Fremont East District, has seen duty as a Sears store and a fingerprinting lab used by Metro. It was almost the site of a 10,000 square-foot nightclub. Right now, it’s extremely forgettable, a window-free, brick-walled blank of a building across from the El Cortez Hotel.
But plans are moving forward—albeit slowly—to transform the old hulk. Last fall, the city’s Office of Business Development selected among several proposals a plan to convert the space into a contemporary art museum, to punch life both into Vegas’ flagging arts community and its Downtown entertainment district.
The proposal comes from Poju Zabludowicz, CEO of the Tamares Group, one of Downtown’s leading landowners. (Tamares owns dozens of properties, including the Plaza.) “This one kind of came out of the blue. It’s a personal thing; it’s not really a corporate thing. It helps us a lot. It’s close to First Friday events as well,” says Romeo Betea, manager of OBD’s Business Development Division.
The plans are still developing, but it looks like the project would renovate the building and add an additional 23,000 square feet. There may be both a permanent gallery and one for temporary pieces. The building is also likely to contain retail space and possibly feature an art cinema and space for artists.
According to Tamares’ website, the Finnish-born Zabludowicz studied economics and political science in Tel Aviv, and worked for a large commercial bank in Frankfurt, Germany, before coming to work at Tamares, an investment company.
Along with his wife, Anita, he is trustee of the Zabludowicz Collection. The collection is housed at Project Space 176, a gallery located inside a renovated Methodist chapel in London. According to 176’s website, the collection was founded in 1995 and contains more than 1,000 works by a global roster of hundreds of artists. Libby Lumpkin, the recently departed head of the Las Vegas Art Museum, says the Zabludowiczs tend to collect work from emerging artists, many of whom go on to achieve prominence.
The centerpiece of the collection is a giant room filled with art and art objects collectively entitled “Large Field Array,” by British artist Keith Tyson. “It’s a highly respected collection in terms of Keith Tyson,” says Lumpkin. “He’s one of the hot younger artists today. He shows at blue-chip art galleries.” “Large Field Array,” she notes, is “considered his largest and most important piece. It will be of great interest to the cultural tourists who come to Las Vegas.”
As the city and Tamares work out the details of the deal, city officials and local representatives for Zabludowicz have been reticent to talk about the project, noting only that it seems to be moving forward. “We would like to lease it,” says Betea, “but if they wish to do a purchase that’s on the table, also.”
When negotiations are finished, the OBD expects to present the deal to the City Council—possibly before the end of January. Until then, even the proposed renderings are not being made available to the public. It could be another two years before the project is completed.
As Vegas tries to weather the economic storm, Lumpkin notes that with careful planning among its collectors, the city of Miami has been able to transform itself into a major art center. Las Vegas, she points out, is a “natural place to develop into an art destination, if for no other reason than that they have so many tourists coming.”