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State Alleges Huntridge Owners Let Historic Theater Fall Into Disrepair

huntridge_theater.jpg
Nevada State Historic Preservation Office
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The Huntridge Theater closed 15 years ago and the state alleges its owners have let the building deteriorate, in violation of a preservation agreement.

The latest Huntridge Theater legal thriller isn’t playing out on the silver screen.

Instead, the historic downtown Las Vegas landmark is starring in a courtroom drama a mile to the west, at the Regional Justice Center.

There a judge will decide this month whether to hold the theater’s owners in contempt over alleged failures to maintain the long-closed building.

The  Nevada Commission for Cultural Centers and Historic Preservation filed the litigation, saying the Huntridge owners have allowed the 75-year-old theater to fall into disrepair in violation of an agreement with the state.

Assemblywoman Heidi Swank explained that the previous owners of the theater were given around $1.5 million in grants in the 90s to fix up the building but that money came with rules. 

“Covenants do come with it.," she said, "So, there are certain requirements that the owner has to take on with their building in order to get these grants.”

The requirements included maintaining the building's historic nature, allowing the commission to inspect the building and allowing public access to the building.

“That was followed for a good number of years but it seems that with the new owners that those covenants were not followed," she said.

Swank explained that the theater is important to preserve for a number of reasons, including the architect who was well known for designing these kinds of grandiose theaters and because of its significance to the community.

“So, there’s an important story there and there’s also architectural significance there for that art deco style of architecture,” she said.

The newest back-and-forth over the theater's future comes at a time when the state is considering a new approach to historic preservation.

Swank has proposed offering transferable tax credits to owners that preserve historic buildings. The state tax credit could be used in conjunction with federal tax credits to make preservation and rehab projects easier to finance. 

“Really the point of that program is to leverage the federal historic tax credit,” Swank said.

Under the proposed bill, a site would need to be put on both the state and federal register of historic places. From there, owners could apply to get both a state tax credit of 20 percent and another 20 percent from the federal government.

A 40 percent reduction in tax bills would make penciling out the cost of a project much easier.

Swank explained that the tax credit is also a way to put more dollars into the local economy because the biggest cost in the rehabilitation of an older building is in labor. 

"Labor dollars are local dollars," she said.

Laborers use the money they are paid to pay for goods and services in their own community. She sees the tax credits as a way to help small businesses.

If the legislation is passed, the tax credit would be capped at $10 million but Swank believes there are a number of buildings that could have been saved if the credits were in place a few years ago and buildings that could be saved now - if lawmakers pass her bill.

“Of course, the Huntridge is at the top of that list,” she said.

Assemblywoman Heidi Swank, perservationist

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With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.