Fine Art

Inside the Smith Center

A first look inside the complex that’s already changing our arts scene

Inching closer: The Smith Center is scheduled to open in the spring of 2012.
Photo: Bill Hughes

This plot of land at the corner of Symphony Park Avenue and City Parkway feels symbolic: What was once home to the railroad that put Las Vegas on the map as a city is now home to a performing arts center designed to put us on the map as a community.

Right now, the steel and concrete shell of the Smith Center for the Performing Arts opens to the sky. The two buildings merge classical architecture with art deco and were designed by Washington D.C. architect David Schwarz. Later this month, the steel structure of the main hall will be ceremoniously topped off.

John Langton of Whiting-Turner Contracting is guiding us along the Weekly’s exclusive tour of the Smith Center, which broke ground last May. Eventually we are led to its enormous stage—60 feet deep and more than a 100 feet tall, it looks out onto a 2,050-seat opera house-style hall that, for all its vastness and grandiosity, feels surprisingly intimate.

In June, crews will begin plastering the walls from the top down. When the building is finally finished—the $245-million construction project is scheduled for completion by the end of 2011—an acoustician will spend an additional two months tuning it. A small replica is already being studied for sound in Connecticut, and here in Las Vegas, workers regularly discuss adjustments that might affect the Center’s sound.

We walk across the basement’s concrete floor—three feet deep, to withstand vibrations from nearby trains—and wind up underneath the stage to examine the orchestra pit, equipped with a special lift to allow for extra seating when an orchestra is not being used.

“The research trips to La Scala [in Italy], all the great halls in the world, really paid off,” says Myron Martin, the Smith Center’s president and CEO, as he looks around. “It’s the little things, the details.”

These include an additional balcony level, so seats in the back are nearer to the stage; a sound console depressed in the floor so that it doesn’t block one’s view; and a giant inlet behind the stage to house the orchestra shell when not in use. Because the Smith Center has been built on part of the 61-acre parcel that used to be a railroad depot, a vapor-mitigation system was installed to keep out fumes from the former fueling yard the structure sits upon.

Martin points up to the cabaret theater that will seat 300 and look out onto Symphony Park. Down the road a little is the site of the 170-foot, four-octave carillon tower. The studio theater in the education building will be large enough for the Las Vegas Philharmonic and a choir to rehearse—at the same time. It can also double as recital space.

So much work, so much faith and so many dollars have gone into this project, which has already changed our arts community. The Philharmonic and Nevada Ballet Theatre have both made enormous strides to step up their programs to be ready for the Smith Center’s opening. It’s why David Itkin conducts our orchestra and James Canfield leads our ballet. The Smith Center’s Southern Nevada Wolf Trap Early Learning program is already in schools in financially disadvantaged areas, helping children learn through creative arts and helping to level the countywide educational playing field.

The doors to the Smith Center will open in the spring of 2012. Martin says everything is on schedule. “I’m getting calls from all around the world—stage managers, marketing people, theater operators, people from all around the country.” And from booking agents.

“When we say we can accommodate any touring production,” Martin says, looking at the high-tech facility. “This is what we mean.”

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