Joe Downtown: Ballet teacher’s relocation sparks bigger issue with downtown redevelopment

Welthy Silva with her young students at Las Vegas Ballet school.

Click to enlarge photo

Las Vegas Ballet school.

Welthy Silva, a ballet teacher with about 30 students in a small studio downtown, is 95 percent sure she will be moving out in a few months.

But not because she wants to.

When she got a six-year lease on the property in 2008, this was no-man’s land. Downtown redevelopment has changed all that. Now the Arts District, in which she resides, is being targeted by developers from all sides.

Four Main Properties LLC purchased the building her Las Vegas Ballet School is in on Main Street, a short walk south of City Hall. They would like her out so they can turn the building into a different type of business, possibly a tavern.

In a statement to the Sun, the developers said if “no mutually beneficial arrangement” can be made with Silva, she “will remain in the building and we will work to accommodate” her needs during construction. “Four Main Properties is striving to be as sensitive as possible to these important Arts District business owners.”

Assuming she is probably going to be moving, Silva is doing what she can to bring her situation to light, if only to force city officials to start talking about how redevelopment should proceed in the Arts District. A few days ago, she posted a petition online at titled: “Don't Force Artists Out of the Arts District!”

As of Tuesday afternoon, 105 people had signed onto the document that says: “The people of Las Vegas have pushed for the Arts District for years, and now that it has finally come together, the artists themselves are being driven out by the prospect of money from bars and restaurants.”

It goes on to ask the city to preserve the area and “step in and support small businesses already existing there. … If the powers that be care enough about the future quality of life for its residents they must step in and support art over greed.”

One signatory is Kathleen Kahr D’Esposito, president of the Huntridge Neighborhood Association. Welthy lives in the Huntridge neighborhood, a fact she put an exclamation point on earlier this year by holding a yard sale and giving all the proceeds to the effort to renovate the historic Huntridge Theater.

“The thing is, she’s providing a service to the community,” Kahr D’Esposito said. “I’m not anti-commerce, but I think they need to find a way to do this. Her situation is a classic example of revitalization going awry.”

The petition is directed at Mayor Carolyn Goodman and Councilman Bob Coffin, whose ward includes the ballet studio.

Coffin and Silva talked about the issue Monday.

“We’re going to help her relocate as close as possible; I want to keep her downtown,” Coffin said.

Four Main Properties has also offered to help her move.

Coffin said he empathized with Silva but also recognizes that the Arts District has lain economically fallow for decades. It needs more than art galleries, and more than bars and restaurants, he said.

“All kinds of businesses want to be around artists,” he said. “We should be thankful this is happening. Just because someone sets up a bar doesn’t mean the whole neighborhood is going to hell.”

At the same time, he acknowledged the need for balance.

“I think we’re going to move ahead and get business in there as we can, keeping in mind there are real things that can synchronize with art,” he said.

Silva’s building used to be owned by Jack Solomon, who passed away in August 2012. For years, Solomon would say that he could foresee the day when downtown Las Vegas redeveloped along the same path as the SoHo District in New York, where he had come from.

Of course, as in SoHo, that means rents increase, buildings are bought and sold, and tenants are left to wonder if they’ll be able to find another spot as suitable and price-friendly.

Longtime developer Richard Worthington, president of the Molasky Group of Cos., said mature cities zone and pay careful attention to the mix of businesses in redeveloping areas. Nothing like that currently exists anywhere in Clark County, he added.

At the same time, redevelopment doesn’t always work, and tinkering with zoning too early in its growth could hurt its prospects. Worthington, whose office is downtown, noted that the city’s urban redevelopment is still in its infancy; he’s not sure if the city can yet be real picky about what kind of business it wants to allow in the area.

“So I don’t know if it’s ready for (that type of zoning) just yet,” he said.

At the very least, Silva hopes some kind of discussion meant to preserve small businesses will be started in the City Council chambers. If it doesn’t, she envisions other small business owners staying away from the area, fearing that what happened to her could happen to them.

“Small businesses are such a chance anyway,” she said. “You put your heart and soul into it. But if you’re going to be run out by the big guys with the money, why is anybody going to take that chance?”


Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.