Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: Huntridge Theatre discussion leaves Facebook for face-to-face answers

Coming into view? An open panel discussion on the Huntridge revival touched on everything from the building’s condition to the tax status of the group bringing it back to life.
Photo: Steve Marcus

I hate to use the word “transparency,” because its overuse by politicians has rendered it virtually meaningless. Transparent, until we find out about secret torture; transparent, but spying on Americans; transparent, but ... you get the gist.

At the local level, however, it’s not always so easy to get away with blurring the image. And if local transparency was ever needed, even demanded, it was last Thursday night when Michael Cornthwaite met the masses concerned about—and hopeful for—the renewal of the Huntridge Theatre.

Cornthwaite wasn’t the only panelist, but as one of three partners trying to revive the decrepit, historic movie house-turned-music venue at Maryland Parkway and Charleston Boulevard, most of the questions from the 150 people gathered were for him. The four other panelists provided extra information that, taken together, drew a clearer picture of what happens if the theater is purchased (for $4 million) and renovated (another $11 million), with the help of a cash infusion/contribution of $125,000 from We the People.

The meeting was called after a raging online debate delved into the who’s and why’s of the revival effort.

When asked about the Huntridge’s condition, Cornthwaite was classic in his honesty. So much so that his Huntridge Revival LLC partner Joey Vanas felt compelled to stand up and state that it’s not that bad. The thing is, people knew the place was in bad shape. They weren’t going to abandon support if they heard as much; they just wanted to hear it from someone who had been inside.

So Cornthwaite obliged.

“When you go inside, it’s been used as a furniture warehouse, so mattresses are stacked everywhere,” he began. Electricity still works. Walls have been defaced and scoured for metals for recycling. There’s no plumbing. “The floor is destroyed.”

Panelist Bob Stoldal, a local TV exec and historian, summed it up nicely: “Would anybody be offended if I used the word ‘shit’?” he asked.

An important question was why Huntridge Revival, Cornthwaite’s limited liability company, hadn’t filed to become a nonprofit before asking people for money.

Cornthwaite explained about the time and expense of doing so, when the goal is to bring the Huntridge back to life before 2017, when a covenant with the state expires, allowing the current owner to demolish it. But Stoldal added to that, giving his perspective as a member of the state Commission for Cultural Affairs. When the commission grants money these days, he said, the demand for documentation is enormous. Cornthwaite added that he isn’t against the idea of becoming a nonprofit.

More came out during the meeting that added urgency to the potential of a refurbished theater. Panelist Kathleen Kahr-D’Esposito, a community organizer, noted that two blocks west of the theater, developers are considering a mid-rise, 370-unit building at the northeast corner of 10th Street and Charleston.

And after residents said they didn’t like the new building’s preliminary renderings, the developers came back with drawings more in line with the look of the Huntridge Theatre. (Whether that ever gets built is another question; plans for a building at that site have been delayed for many years.)

Then emcee Brian “Paco” Alvarez noted that the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada is in the early phases of studying alternative modes of travel on Maryland Parkway. Light rail from Fremont Street to the UNLV area was being considered.

Finally, Stoldal pointed to the covenant between previous Huntridge Theatre owners and the state Commission for Cultural Affairs. In return for almost $1 million, it demanded the building be kept in good condition and be open at least 12 days a year. Stoldal contended those conditions weren’t met. In turn, the commission is going to discuss the theater’s covenant at its next meeting in late July.

Will that help Huntridge Revival? If the commission finds terms of the covenant were broken—and that the current owners are culpable, even though the pact was signed before they took ownership—could it compel the current owner to sell at a lower price? Or to refund the commission, which could then sell the building to Huntridge Revival?

None of those answers are clear.

But no one would have known to even ask if an open discussion hadn’t been demanded in the first place.

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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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