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Best New Opening of 2012

December 31, 2012 at 12:01 PM | by | ()

The one constant in Las Vegas is change and downtown Las Vegas has been the biggest benefactor of progress in recent history. Fremont has continued to expand east with exciting new restaurants, bars, and shopping. Yet it's the opposite side of the tracks that was marked for a new performing arts center.

When plans for The Smith Center were announced way back in 2009 many wondered how demand for such a facility would stack up against existing theatres, showrooms and arenas that were already home to many permanent and touring productions. Not to mention those existing options were located on The Strip and not in an unknown darkness named Symphony Park.

As construction neared completion, Broadway familiar shows by the name Wicked, The Color Purple, Million Dollar Quartet, and Memphis were announced for the Smith Center. The Las Vegas Philharmonic and the Nevada Ballet Theatre decided to move their permanent homes there. At the same time, a major shift in entrepreneurial and monetary mindsets were re-focusing on downtown. Was a perfect storm brewing that could quite possibly create a new cultural center for Las Vegas?

As it turns out any doubt and questions surrounding the Smith Center were eliminated as soon as the public got its first look at the facility. Before the first curtain even dropped, a preview tour had us calling the city's first major cultural center a world class venue. Every detail in the building's design was well thought out and carefully implemented. But, would an extraordinary stand-alone building be enough once the doors were open, the lights turned down and the curtains raised?

In short, yes. It was love at first note. The sound, stage and production quality were on par with the most historic of theaters we've been inside. There are many venues we promise to return to often and never get around to, but in the case of The Smith Center we've been back several times and the new theater smell hasn't worn off in the slightest. That's why VegasChatter's 2012 award for Best New Opening easily goes to The Smith Center.

Runner Up: Neon Boneyard

Much like The Smith Center gave Las Vegas an opportunity to reveal its cultural side, the official opening of the Neon Boneyard saw the city embrace its history. Some would (correctly) argue that the Mob Museum also captures a well-known part of Vegas' past and should be considered amongst the year's best openings. While the Mob Museum is a well-known and well-placed piece of the city's cultural and historical puzzles, the mob isn't limited to the valley's borders whereas neon and Las Vegas are synonymous.

The opening of the Neon Boneyard marks a graveyard where Vegas' past goes not to die, but to be honored. Famous, but long retired signs from such hotel-casinos as the Stardust, Frontier and Binion's Horseshoe have been fully restored, many to working order, alongside lesser known, but no less awesome artifacts from the Fox Theater, wedding chapels and other local businesses.

It may not be the Freedom Trail, but the Neon Boneyard is literally a one-of-a-kind, only in Vegas (but in a good way) opportunity to walk through the city's past. We dare anyone to walk out from a guided neon tour not feeling enriched. A feeling not every museum can fulfill.

(PHOTOS: VegasChatter, Neon Museum on Foursquare)

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