Daily Archives: June 20, 2009

Controversy Swirls as Circus Comes to Las Vegas

The circus is back in Las Vegas, performing this weekend at the Orleans in Las Vegas.  The Ringling Brothers-Barnum and Bailey Circus arrived Tuesday night for their annual visit, but this year is different. The circus is awaiting a decision by a federal judge about whether it can continue to use endangered elephants in its act. elephant

Animal welfare groups have alleged for many years that what Ringling Brothers does is inherently cruel to elephants. Now, they’re waiting to see if a federal judge agrees with them. They hope this is the end of the line for more than a century of animal cruelty. The Ringling folks are just as confident that the show will go on. 

Animal activist Linda Faso has helped organize protests against every circus to hit Las Vegas for the last two decades, arguing it is inherently cruel to endangered Asian elephants to force them into the life of a traveling carny, and the proof is in the chaining of their feet. 

Some of the most pointed testimony to emerge in a six week federal trial focused on the feet of Ringling elephants. Nearly all of the animals have foot problems to one degree or another, not only because they spend most of their lives in chains, either in rail cars or on asphalt parking lots like the Orleans in Las Vegas, but also because elephants simply aren’t built to perform the kind of tricks they are taught for the circus. 

Former Ringling elephant handler Tom Rider was one of the star witnesses in the federal trial. He told the court there is only one way to get large, intelligent creatures to don funny outfits and perform amusing tricks, and that’s thru the use of pain and fear, as manifested in the use of the infamous bullhook. Ringling has compared the bullhook to a leash for dogs, but video captured around the country shows otherwise. 

The federal trial ended last March. The judge could decide that Ringling can no longer put elephants on the road and in the show. Even if the circus prevails in the case, the groups that sued believe they’ve already made an impact. 

At the Las Vegas unloading, the traditional bullhooks were nowhere to be seen, replaced instead by smaller, less menacing devices. It’s not enough, animal groups say. “I would assume that in various cities there are a lot more people watching now, so they are being more careful, and it’s just behind the scenes. I’m sure the elephants are being chained still, in boxcars which the general public doesn’t get to see,” said Nicole Paquett, attorney for Born Free USA. 

Paquett says the federal judge has scheduled more oral arguments to be held in July, so a decision won’t happen until after those sessions. But can Ringling carry on without its elephants? The animal welfare folks say yes and they point to the success of Cirque De Soleil shows in Las Vegas and throughout the world as an example.

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Las Vegas Celebrates Abolition of Slavery

The Civil War has long since ended and slaves freed, but the spirit of the historic occasion lives on in Las Vegas during the 9th Annual Juneteenth Festival.  slavery

The national celebration of Juneteenth was precipitated after Union soldiers, lead by Maj. Gen. George Granger, landed in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865 and made a proclamation that the Civil War had ended and the slaves were free– nearly 2 ½ years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. 

Despite the holiday falling into obscurity at the start of the 20th century, as many blacks migrated north and became separated from the roots of the tradition, and early ordinances forbid the celebration of Juneteenth on public property, the celebration has since rapidly gained steam and become a longtime tradition, especially in the South.  Historically, it was celebrated with fishing outings and barbecues on local church grounds. 

Juneteenth is a family-oriented Las Vegas event, including carnival games, art and craft booths, speakers, plenty of vendors hawking their wares, and, what would this festival be if not plenty of barbecued chicken and fried catfish– but no beer.

Scheduled performers include Grammy award-winning singer Najee, the Australian doo-wop group and Imperial Palace headliners Human Nature, “step” group Molodi, comedian and Flamingo headliner George Wallace and the cast members from Stomp Out Loud, who will join Skip Martin, lead singer of the platinum-selling funk-pop super group Kool & The Gang, as the headlining acts for the annual citywide celebration. 

The Las Vegas Juneteenth Festival will conclude today, Saturday, running from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., at the Sammy Davis, Jr. Plaza in Lorenzi Park, located a few blocks west on Washington Avenue past Rancho Boulevard.  Admission is free.

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Las Vegas Mob Museum & City Hall Projects Face Hard Times

Las Vegas tourism and business development efforts were dealt more crushing blows this week.  The $11.5 million proposed Mob Museum (on the current old post office site, right) — aka the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, which was supposed to chronicle the influence of organized crime on Southern Nevada and the law enforcement effort to drag criminals into courts of law — became the focal point in a contractor bidding dispute Wednesday on one of the final phases of the planned construction project. 

The matter could head to litigation, tying up the museum’s originally planned 2010 opening for years. 

Las Vegas is in protracted litigation with one of the contractors over a separate project. Furthermore, Las Vegas City Council members criticized city staff for inadequate bid specifications, worrying that disputes like this one will increase because of intensifying competition for construction work. 

The contract was scheduled to be awarded Wednesday to APCO Construction. After a lengthy hearing on a protest filed by Flagship Construction Co., a competing bidder, the matter was rescheduled for July 1, but some expect the fight to continue beyond that date. 

At issue is the full disclosure of contractor litigations, specification on removing hazardous materials, a seismic retrofit, interior remodeling and the historic restoration process. 

“I suspect litigation may flow from this,” said Las Vegas City Attorney Brad Jerbic. 

Las Vegas Mayor Pro Tem Gary Reese was even more pessimistic: “We’re going to have a project here in the city of Las Vegas that’s going to be detained for a couple of years.” 

The news was a real downer for prior mob lawyer and current Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, a top-tier pet downtown development project of his.  On top of that, the always outspoken mayor had to remain silent, recusing himself from the discussions because he shares an interest with one of contractors, APCO in the Apex Industrial Park. 

“I’ve been the driving force, I guess. I hope it’s complete while I can still enjoy it in public office,” says Goodman, who is considering a bid for Nevada governor as an independent in 2010. 

However, work continues on the Mob Museum exhibits that are planning to be located inside the retrofitted 1930s-era former courthouse on Stewart Avenue downtown, across the street from City Hall.

The museum is being funded by a mixture of private donations and grants, with the bulk of the money to come from city Redevelopment Agency bonds used to boost downtown Las Vegas development. 

Wednesday’s bad business development news was a prelude to more bad Las Vegas news on Thursday. To add salt to the oozing wounds, the controversial new city hall project, the touted savior catalyst that could jump-start the next wave of Las Vegas development, is also stalled and in jeopardy, according to Goodman in his Thursday news conference. 

Goodman blamed skittish financial markets, saying the city originally planned on an interest rate of around 5 percent. As of Wednesday, it appeared the best the city could do was 7.5 percent. “That’s a difference of millions of dollars,” Goodman said. 

cityhallAlthough the city received final approval to seek up to $267 million to finance the construction of a new city hall, left, now Las Vegas has run into the brick wall reality of financial markets, said Chris Bohner, research director for Culinary Local 226.  “I think the financial markets have a better understanding of risk than the City Council,” he said. “The financial markets have said, ‘We don’t think your project’s feasible.'” 

The next step for the city hall project would appear to be to seek bond financing for what is known as a “lease-purchase” agreement in which investors put up the construction money and are paid back through annual appropriations by the city. Such financing is considered a much riskier method than general obligation bonds because it’s not tied to a specific funding source.

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Marriage Certificates Plummet in “Wedding Destination Capital of the World” — Las Vegas

Las Vegas is one of the most, if not THE most, popular destination wedding locales in the world.  The continuing decline of Las Vegas visitors has impacted the quantity of Las Vegas weddings performed-  those on budget appear to being staying closer to home for a more cost-effective option. 

According to data released by the Clark County Recorder’s Office, the number of marriage certificates recorded continues to decline.  In April, approximately 8,500 marriage licenses were recorded, which represents a 1.6 percent decline compared to the same month in 2008.   Even more dramatic, the number of April marriage certificates recorded is down 10.3 percent compared to the same month in 2007 (9,512 certificates recorded), and down a significant 17.8 percent compared to the same month in 2005 (10,370 certificates recorded).

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Las Vegas First Friday ‘Art Crawl’ Event Takes Nosedive

Selling cultural art opportunities in Las Vegas that are ostensibly designed to benefit residents, and not so much the tourists, is apparently a very difficult sell. 

‘First Friday’ in Las Vegas started in 2002 as an art crawl, or a monthly block party on the first Friday of each month that includes downtown galleries and businesses in the Las Vegas Downtown Arts District.  Art galleries were open.  Musicians would take to the sidewalks next to psychics, poets and other strolling performers.  Crowds grew from a few hundred to as many as 10,000, requiring barricades, police officers and a host of special permits. 

But now all that has changed.  No white familiar tents dotting the landscape.  No stages blasting rock music.  No crowds lining up in large lines at food vendors. 

Funding problems are causing Whirlygig, the nonprofit organization running the event, to scale back considerably.  Founder Cindy Funkhouser has been seeking money, including private donations, but not enough has resulted to keep the festival going. 

Festival costs are in excess of $13,000 a month for barricades, stages, power, lighting and permits.  Las Vegas, which is a large support of the event, contributing $80,000 a year, now concentrates that amount on just six months, when crowds are the largest, rather then the entire year.  It hoped Whirlygig would grow into a self-sustaining organization.  It didn’t. 

Funkhouser says she and her husband, Rick Dominguez, want to get back to presenting the large festival, but says “We’re just kind of winging it.  I’m just kind of at the point where this is what it is.”

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