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April 18, 2014

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Keep Downtown loud: The debate over entertainment district noise rages

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Bill Hughes

Millie Clip of TurbonegrA at Beauty Bar

When your home is located inside an entertainment district, a certain amount of noise from nearby venues should be expected, but when does it become too much? And what should be done about it?

Those were the questions asked Tuesday night as the Las Vegas City Council held a community meeting to get feedback on proposed changes to the noise ordinances currently applied to the six-block segment of Downtown designated the Fremont East Entertainment District. FEED runs from Las Vegas Boulevard to 8th Street, and from Carson Avenue to Ogden Street.

The proposed changes would force FEED venues to finish outdoor events by 2 a.m. on weekends and midnight on weeknights, unless a special permit has been granted by the city. Currently, the district is exempt from the city’s general noise laws.

James Woodbridge, founder of Neon Reverb, a twice-yearly music festival primarily held in the district, called the proposed changes “draconian” and asked where the complaining citizens were when the current noise ordinance was put into place in September 2008.

“Everyone had an opportunity when this process started to speak up,” he said. “Nobody did, and the law was passed. It is law now.”

Changing that law, he added, would kill area businesses.

Woodbridge and several others noted that Odgen, the high-rise tower housing many of the people complaining about the noise opened years after the entertainment district was established in 2002. The Ogden opened in 2008, originally under the name Streamline Tower. Meanwhile, Beauty Bar, which operates an outdoor stage, opened in 2005 and quickly began holding outdoor music events.

Of the citizens speaking in favor of the ordinance, many said they enjoyed the urban life but wanted it in moderation. One suggested using decibel readers to monitor noise levels without having to ban outdoor events completely. Others took issue with profanity being blasted from loudspeakers during events like block festivals.

Many of these comments were met by mutterings and occasional shouts of “Move to Summerlin then!” from the crowd, which appeared to heavily support keeping the noise ordinances the same. Many in the crowd donned red T-shirts emblazoned with the statement, “Keep Downtown Loud.”

And not all Downtown residents support the change, either. Jerry Misko, a Las Vegas native who lives in the Odgen, said he loves the noise. “Garbage trucks, sirens, construction—those are louder.”

Misko added that many Las Vegans do not work 9-to-5 schedules and instead sleep during the day. “Maybe they should complain about the daytime noise.”

Jennifer Cornthwaite of Downtown Cocktail Room and Emergency Arts, both located in the district, also spoke. She addressed her comments to City Council through the meeting’s host, Ricki Barlow, the councilman behind these proposed changes.

“I would hope that, if this passes, you are willing to take all responsibility for what happens,” she said. “I hope you will realize you made a big mistake.”

The Tuesday night meeting was held to gather information and public opinion. Barlow will take the comments, as well as business comment cards mailed earlier in the month, into consideration. If he decides to continue with a proposal, it would be introduced to the Council recommendation board on October 19 and go before the entire Council on November 16.

Cornthwaite acknowledged the years of Downtown revitalization efforts and urged the city not to push back progress. Frank Elam echoed the statement. He owns the building that houses Tequila Azul, a Latin nightclub that opened one year ago. The business, located on 7th Street, is the primary targets of noise complaints.

“We cater to the Latin market,” said Elam. “The party doesn’t start until 11 [p.m.]. If we have to shut down at 2 [a.m.], our business isn’t there. If this passes, we are out of business.”

Elam says he has invested $750,000 in Azul, all in the name of Downtown development.

But Elam isn’t the only one heavily invested. Ada Cohen is too. She owns the Downtowner Motel, whose backside faces Azul, and says she has undergone almost a million dollars in renovations over the last few years. Yet, the business is suffering because of its noisy neighbors.

“We opened in 1963. We have seen ups and downs, but nothing like this past year. This is because of Azul,” she said, nearing tears as she addressed the packed room. “I don’t think Azul should ruin my business. I can’t do this anymore.”

Lesley Perceval says she sympathizes, especially if claims that the motel was not involved in the original talks about the creation of an entertainment district are true. Still, the community manager at City Center apartments says the Downtowner must simply adjust.

“That is what we did,” says Perceval. “We changed our rent ads, highlighted being so close to the entertainment district. When our leasing agents give tours, they always mention it. It’s a great selling point.”

Doing that, Perceval says, has kept the complex at 90 percent occupancy while their neighbors struggle with much lower numbers. The apartment building is located just outside FEED, but Perceval notes that she lives in the building and knows firsthand about the noise. She adds, “It’s not that bad. We have never received one complaint about it.”

Perceval thinks the proposed ordinance change is unnecessary and would hurt the progress of the area. Her suggestion is a simple one: “Just turn it down a little.”

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