Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: With its anchor bars’ future in question, what will become of Neonopolis?

What a drag: Cancel your drag bowling plans for this weekend. Drink & Drag and Krave are out of commission at Neonopolis.
Photo: Sam Morris

To understand the eye rolls from Las Vegans when yet another salesman promises the Next Big Thing, it helps to look back a few years.

It was February 2008, the dawn of the Great Recession. Then-Mayor Oscar Goodman and Councilman Gary Reese tried to control their laughter as a wannabe developer spoke of the enormous high-rise he wanted to build near Charleston Boulevard and 4th Street.

“You really have the money to build this project?” Goodman asked.

“We’re working on it,” a company representative replied.

“Uh-oh,” Goodman said. “Tough, tough, tough, tough times.”

“Well,” came the testy reply, “thank you for the recommendation.”

Goodman and Reese then did a comic bit about how they were still awaiting a check from another developer of another high-rise, one of dozens announced at the time but never built.

“I checked on it, and I was told it would be in the mail, and we called day after day,” Goodman said, starting to laugh.

“It was coming from Salt Lake City, though,” Reese added, giggling.

It was a hilarious moment of pure honesty by local electeds faced with big promises and disappointing outcomes. Goodman and Reese are out of office now, but the hope is that city officials haven’t forgotten the lesson, even during tough times when the temptation to believe overwhelms feelings of doubt or common sense.

Sometimes, it’s better to just cut your losses and forge ahead. That brings us to the story of Krave and Neonopolis. When nightclub owner Kelly Murphy held a widely attended press conference more than a year ago to announce Krave’s move from the Strip into Downtown’s Neonopolis and its expansion into the largest gay club in the country, it was heralded as the Next Big Thing.

Well, the state closed Krave six weeks ago for tax issues, and last week the City Council denied liquor licenses for Krave and sister-business Drink & Drag, also in Neonopolis.

The Fremont Street complex has long been a graveyard for the many businesses that have tried to do business there, despite its operator, Rohit Joshi, celebrating this or that project as the next big thing for his mall.

Sure, Heart Attack Grill seems to be working there. Denny’s is chugging along. A microbrewery is moving in, and there are some other small, interesting shops inside. But walk into the Neonopolis courtyard any given day and you’ll find the place devoid of foot traffic, your voice echoing off the walls.

The question is whether Neonopolis—or Krave—is important to the mission of Downtown’s rebirth.

It was built for that purpose, part of long-ago Mayor Jan Jones’ attempt to revitalize the urban core (the city spent some $30 million on a parking structure under the mall). And there are signs that Downtown Project, which says it’s spending $350 million on redevelopment in the neighborhood, wants Neonopolis to succeed. The organization has lent money to Heart Attack Grill to get the restaurant up and running, it’s a minority partner in Banger Brewing, and it’s still trying to negotiate something related to Krave, in which it is also a minority partner. Some say DTP is trying to buy the club, but if the former theater space turns into nothing, if it’s left empty, should anyone care?

If not for the few businesses that seem to be working out there, I can imagine Neonopolis getting set for the next great implosion party.

Maybe this is as good as it gets for Neonopolis. Maybe Downtown doesn’t need a hulking mall on its main drag. Maybe we should just put it in the rear-view mirror and keep moving east with the flow.

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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