Call it efficiency or laziness, but my monthly “editions” of Downtown-related opinery have gone from publication on the 1st, to a week in, to the very end of the month. At this rate, WTFIGOD: July will be published sometime in mid-late August, portending a different naming convention. But who cares? It doesn’t matter. Let’s start the show!
A soap opera plays out (appropriately?) surrounding an old theater. But, larger implications.
The Huntridge Theater has meant many things to many natives and residents of Las Vegas over the decades, and its vacant frame has become a symbol of the senselessness of the incentives presented to commercial developers and preservationists alike in a place like Lost Wages. But the latest fight to save the building and restore it to new glory (I’m a volunteer in that effort) has laid bare and clarified the bubbling disconnect between locals and newcomers espousing good intentions, one that I’ve observed and attempted so futilely to understand and describe during my short time in Vegas.
In short, I think I get it now. And to be honest, I’m not sure what to make of it.
I’ll get right to it: the Downtown Project, as an organization, has a consistent philosophy, if not explicit policy, of not broadcasting statements, positions, or explanations on topics that might provide context for an extremely curious un-involved local public. I’m honest when I say that I really like the people I know within the DTP, and I trust their good intentions in everything they do do, but I can’t help but worry about the things they refuse to do; namely, communicate actively and authentically outside of a personal setting.
I add this caveat, because everyone I know within DTP exclaims, sometimes with exasperation, that all anyone has to do is come talk to us! Com’on, as if y’all aren’t all busy enough without making time for coffee sessions with the thousands of butt-hurt local artists and dogooders who have questions that aren’t answered on the project’s website or in the bubbly quiet bravado vision that tech and lame-stream media tend to emphasize.
Without an authentic storytelling strategy, the DTP’s expedition to uncharted territory aboard the SS Zappos looks even worse from the outside than do even the small, quiet horde of gambling and real estate developers who’ve ravaged Clark County and LV city proper (which is basically just Downtown and the bits around it) over the decades. I assert this because at least those guys don’t say anything; they fly under the radar completely hide entirely behind their money, and generally avoid making themselves a target in any way; they certainly don’t talk about “delivering happiness” in any but the most carnal of senses.
Unfortunately, Zappos, DTP, etc. folks, and Tony in particular, get the same rap as the rest of Vegas’ money guys, foster the same assumptions of greed and psychopathy, except worse, because their stated good intentions without consistently, publicly addressing the hard issues makes it look exactly (from the outside) as if it is just as the most absurd, conspiratorial fictions painted accuse: that the whole damn thing is just an elitist, money-grubbing cult that rides on good vibes, in the resonant frequency of a llama.
I could never quite put my finger on the disconnect between obvious (to me) good intentions and the lack of trust fostered; that is, until this whole Huntridge thing exploded. When the Huntridge Indiegogo campaign launched, and volunteers and partners immediately started getting called DTP shills, assumed to be ‘all part of the plan’ to hyper-gentrify the whole area, my friend and sometime-colleague Josh Ellis wrote a massive, hyperbolic, and amazingly nuanced and insightful analysis of the whole hilarity (and got called a shill too!) that produced the key insight: we involved were all surprised that the public entirely and immediately lumped the Huntridge project in with Zappos, DTP, and “Tony’s plan” in particular.
And it was because it was the first project by anyone who the public see as ‘connected’ to Zappos money that actually had to go out and engage actively and with vulnerability with the existing community, and publicly ask for its help.
And that’s the saddest part. Upon finally understanding why we immediately got pigeonholed, it was immediately obvious that this one project was a perfect microcosm for the dripping, ticking, building tension between uninvolved locals and the ZDTP landing party. I made my case to people within DTP and Zappos who would be in a position to make my point internally, and was friendly-ly but summarily told to agree to disagree.
So, that’s what I’m doing. It’s just too bad, because I’m pretty sure that until they pivot this strategy (sorry, bad startup lingo habits) and take a less passive line in this hand (sorry, I’ve been playing too much poker lately), the issues, the scrutiny, the calls for accountability and communication, are just going to get louder. And that’s gotta be really annoying when you’re trying to create a foundation to transform maybe the least community-focused city in the world into… something else.