Las Vegas Sun

November 25, 2014

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Historic precedent: Huntridge owner wants to pay back grant

Since it opened on Oct. 10, 1944, the Huntridge Theater has been many things to Las Vegas -- a Saturday matinee spot, a place to catch a glimpse of stars such as Frank Sinatra or Marlene Dietrich promoting their movies, and more recently an all-ages concert venue where national headlining bands performed and MTV filmed a Beastie Boys show.

Now, the historic building could make history by setting an unusual -- and some say troubling -- precedent for the state.

On Friday the Cultural Affairs Commission discussed allowing current Huntridge owner Eli Mizrachi repay the state $1.5 million in grant money that was designated to renovate and restore the Huntridge into a top-notch performing venue.

Mizrachi wants to cut the strings attached to the money. Right now he can't demolish the building or even alter it without prior approval from the State Historic Preservation Officer. And, its use has to be as a performing arts space.

The theater, designed by S. Charles Lee, is listed in the state and national registers of historic places.

The Department of Cultural Affairs has never allowed anyone the right to return grants given to preserve a historic site, so commission members said they think they need an opinion from the attorney general's office as to whether it can even be done.

One of the commission members, Bob Stoldal, vice president of news operations at KLAS-TV Channel 8, said he worried that allowing the move would set a precedent that would make the protection placed on other historic sites meaningless.

Commission members postponed a decision on Mizrachi's request.

Mizrachi was represented at the meeting by his cousin, Hayim Mizrachi. He said there were no plans yet for the future of the theater, which has been closed since 2004.

He said Eli Mizrachi wanted to have the freedom to do whatever he wants with the site.

The $1.5 million in public money had been committed to the Huntridge before Mizrachi took control of the theater. From the early 1990s to about 2001, the state provided eight grants ranging from $56,000 to $420,000 to the nonprofit entity that owned it prior to Mizrachi, said Ronald James, State Historic Preservation Officer.

Mizrachi was able to buy the theater at a bargain price -- about $925,000 -- largely because of the restrictions, some of the commissioners noted. If those restrictions are lifted, the value of the property immediately skyrockets.

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