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December 19, 2014

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Neon Eden:

Frustration takes over in quest for local all-ages music venue

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Corlene Byrd

Tim Thurtle used to stage all-ages shows at Area 702 Skate Park.

Until they can score a fake ID, there’s not much for kids to do in this town. Las Vegas is like most American communities that way, but gambling and alcohol are central to life here, making the problem even worse.

So it’s a shame the Las Vegas City Council went out of its way last month to impede Tim Thurtle’s two-year effort to open an all-ages music venue. Thurtle was temporarily operating an outdoor venue called the Junkyard, at 708 S. 1st St. He’d received special event permits while looking for a permanent indoor location elsewhere Downtown.

The problem is that the licensing for all-ages music venues is strict. You can tell from the introduction to the city code that regulates them, with language right out of Footloose: “The City Council finds that the businesses of conducting teenage dances and operating teenage dancehalls … seriously affect the social and moral well being of the City ...”

The most onerous requirement is that the venue must reside at least 500 feet from any establishment that serves or sells alcohol or any sex-related business. (The codes in other local jurisdictions are equally stringent.) Try going 500 feet in Las Vegas—especially Downtown—without running into alcohol or sex businesses. The ordinance extends to buildings that share a roof with the proposed venue, so you couldn’t have your teen dance hall in a mall if the mall has a Chili’s that serves margaritas.

Understandably, fire codes are also strict, especially in the older buildings Downtown. And, applicants are subject to a rigorous background check by Metro Police.

“It’s basically impossible to open a venue for kids,” Thurtle said to me in frustration. Not surprisingly, there are none.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. If you operate as a religious or educational institution, you can skate the ordinance. Or, the kids just have shows at their houses, no doubt rifling through their parents’ liquor cabinets in the process.

The City Council denied Thurtle’s request for a special event permit that would allow him to continue operating no more than seven times a month while he found a permanent, indoor home. City Councilman Bob Coffin, who represents the ward where the temporary venue sits, said he was persuaded by noise complaints from neighbors. The proposed concerts would have ended at 10 p.m. at the latest, so I find this a little baffling. For some people, it seems property rights mean I can force you to speak in a whisper.

In frustration, Thurtle withdrew his application for the dance hall license.

So, either Thurtle is inept or his story epitomizes the struggles of dealing with the red tape of our local governments, especially when it comes to kid-related businesses. The Clark County Planning Commission denied his dance hall license on West Oquendo Road, near Decatur and Russell, where he has a skate park. The County Commission also denied the license. Even getting the skate park open—without the music venue—has been a struggle, as he still hasn’t obtained a building permit.

In any case, Thurtle’s failed all-ages venue is a bummer. A real urban environment, which Downtown Las Vegas aspires to be, should mix people of different backgrounds but also ages. If you go to New York, you’ll see kids on the subway. It teaches them independence and how to act in public, and it keeps us young.

Cloistering kids in the suburbs doesn’t make them—or us—any safer. It bores them, which makes them want to get a bottle of cheap alcohol and some weed and drive around. Raise your hand if you know what I’m talking about.

Thurtle was blunt: “Las Vegas is not a kid-friendly city.” By this he meant local government, but later he noted that our entire community’s view of kids borders on paranoia: “This is the perception of kids—alcohol, graffiti, madness. Not all kids are bad, man.”

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