Bill Hughes / Special to the Sun
Friday, Feb. 12, 2010 | 2 a.m.
The plot of land at Symphony Park Avenue and City Parkway sits literally at the crossroads of Las Vegas’ history. What was once home to the rail yard that helped put Las Vegas on the map in 1905 is becoming home to a performing arts center that, when it opens in spring 2012, will further define us as a community.
For now, the steel and concrete shell of the Smith Center for the Performing Arts opens to the sky. The main hall will be ceremoniously topped off this month. It and the separate education center, both designed by Washington, D.C., architect David Schwarz, combine classical architecture with art deco.
John Langton of Whiting-Turner Contracting is guiding us through the Smith Center, which broke ground in May. Eventually we are led to its enormous stage — 60 feet deep and more than a 100 feet tall, looking 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 center, which will cost $245 million to build, is finally finished, an acoustician will spend an additional two months tuning it. A small replica is 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 thick, 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, 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 Smith Center has been built on part of the 61-acre parcel that used to be a rail yard, a vapor-mitigation system was installed to keep out fumes from the former fueling yard the structure sits on.
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 is changing the arts community. The Philharmonic and Nevada Ballet Theatre have 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. Smith Center’s Southern Nevada Wolf Trap Early Learning program is in schools in financially disadvantaged areas, helping children learn through creative arts and helping to level the countywide educational playing field.
Smith Center will open in spring 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.”