Las Vegas Sun

April 19, 2014

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Adding architect to delay project

Genius comes at a price.

The price of commissioning world-renowned architect Frank Gehry to use his genius to design the $35 million Lou Ruvo Alzheimer's Center at Union Park in western downtown Las Vegas will be a one- to two-year delay in the opening of the facility.

The previously projected start-up date had been 2007.

Backers of the project, however, say that waiting an extra year or two is a price worth paying because having Gehry on board will open "new avenues of fundraising" to ensure the money is there to build it. And in the meantime, they said, area doctors will simply continue their work at their current facilities.

To date, about $20 million has been raised to build the facility that not only figures to be the gateway to Union Park but also a major component of the proposed academic medical center to be operated by the University of Nevada School of Medicine adjacent to the Alzheimer's center.

After the official announcement Wednesday that he will be the architect for the 35,000-square-foot medical facility on one acre of the 61 acres of former Union Pacific Railroad yard property, Gehry called Las Vegas "a big stage" on which to create a building for the ages.

He said he will create a "warm" building "that relaxes people and makes them comfortable for the procedures they are going through."

Larry Ruvo, senior managing director of Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada, who along with his wife, Camille, Mirage Resorts President Bobby Baldwin and Baldwin's wife, Donna, are the driving forces behind creation of the center, said the extra time Gehry will need is "a little delay, not long."

"During that one or two years, the doctors will continue their work," said Ruvo who is naming the facility for his dad, who died 10 years ago from Alzheimer's disease. "Also, having Mr. Gehry connected to the project will open new opportunities for fundraising."

A contract securing Gehry's services was signed Feb. 24, Ruvo said.

Ruvo reckons that a number of potential donors who have not yet come forward in support of the project would make significant donations to have their names on the doors of the 13 proposed examination rooms in a Gehry-designed building.

Plans are for the center to also include offices for health care practitioners, exhibition space, a 1,500-square-foot "museum of the mind" and a 2,500-square-foot auditorium.

Gehry, who turned 76 on Monday, jokingly told an audience of about 200 people in the Las Vegas City Council Chambers Wednesday afternoon for the announcement during the council's zoning agenda that he could "be an Alzheimer's patient very shortly. The way I forget things is scary."

More seriously, he said, "It's a heavy, heavy assignment."

Gehry, who works in what is called the deconstructive aesthetic style of architecture -- a style that shuns the traditional linear box look in favor of sweeping geometric designs -- designed the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Bilbao, Spain and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, among others. He also designed the space that the Guggenheim Museum used in the Venetian.

Standing in front of a huge sign in the council chambers that read: "Frank Gehry helping keep memory alive in Las Vegas," Gehry called the Alzheimer's project the city's most important building.

He said that to build the most impressive building in a community with so many other impressive buildings will be a challenge.

"Being outstanding with a small building is no easy thing to do," he said.

After the news conference, Gehry laughed when a reporter asked him if he had drawn up any designs yet, saying, "No, I just got here."

Gehry, whose company, Gehry & Krueger Inc., is based in Santa Monica, Calif., arrived in Las Vegas just hours before Wednesday's news conference and toured the site at Grand Central Parkway and Bonneville Avenue in the southwest corner of the 61-acre Union Park site.

"I'll try to make something unique," Gehry said, noting that another challenge in building a small medical center will be factoring in how patients will feel going there for treatments on a regular basis.

"It (the structure) must have a warm feel to it," Gehry said in response to a question about how a medical facility -- a serious place -- would differ in design from the many fun places he has built, including museums and music centers. "We want to make it a nice, comfortable place."

Gehry said that while he has turned down offers to design buildings in Las Vegas in the past, he has nothing against the town. He said the other proposed projects, for whatever reasons, just did not work out.

Gehry also noted that he grew up around slot machines -- the collection his father kept in the basement of the family's home.