There is a new kid on the block in Las Vegas, “The Entertainment Capital of the World,” and it has introduced an interesting cultural twist to town; one that brings in exceptional performers from around the country and the globe.

In Spring 2012, the pièce de résistance of Symphony Park, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, celebrated its coming out to the community of Las Vegas and the world with a gala and show hosted by actor Neil Patrick Harris. What a rarity to bring together a one-night-only lady powerhouse trio of Carol King, Martina McBride and Jennifer Hudson! Toss in performances ringing out the vibrant trumpet sounds of Arturo Sandoval, Broadway superstar Cheyenne Jackson, first-rate violinist Joshua Bell, among other talents, and you have one memorable night under a single roof.

With a locale in the downtown area of the city, the Center finally arrived after over a decade in the making. Marking the beginning of a new era, this world class performing arts space is off to a promising start in sustaining what the founding visionaries set out to do: to make local, national, and international high caliber performing arts more accessible, particularly for local residents, and to create a more diverse perception of the city beyond Las Vegas Boulevard, otherwise known as “The Strip.”

“I kid people,” former mayor Oscar B. Goodman says. “I say it took me 12 years to become an overnight success because all of the seeds that were planted began to sprout at the end of my tenure. It was the hard work; it was Don Snyder (Smith Center’s board of directors chairman), Myron Martin (Smith Center’s president and chief executive officer), the folks who really put their money where their mouth is to enable this to come true, and they did it very selflessly.”

Statuesque amidst signature palm trees, the Smith Center stands tall, bright, and full of life. Art deco in style, hard lines and geometric forms outline the Center’s frames inside and out. The inside is majestic and reminiscent of New York’s Carnegie Hall. Seeing the stage of Reynolds Hall, the largest of the venues in the Center, one can imagine all of the brilliant performances that are yet to fill the stage, entertaining and enriching the lives of all who pass through.

The two other venues within the Center are smaller and more intimate, including its very own club, Cabaret Jazz, presenting appearances from music veterans and recording artists from the likes of Barbara Cook and Lucy Woodward as well as a monthly residency from famed Las Vegas based singer and entertainer, Clint Holmes.

In the tradition of the modernity of art deco, structurally, the Smith Center is taking a stance in the green building movement, holding a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver certification. The Center incorporates a sustainability component where measures were taken to utilize environmentally friendly building materials, conserve water and energy, and create green cleaning and waste management initiatives. According to The Environmental Protection Agency, the positive effects of moving toward more sustainable construction methods include better energy and water efficiency, improvement of personal health, and reduction of waste and pollution.

The former mayor recalls that the first project that was brought to his attention, when he began his tenure, was finding a home for the concept of a performing arts venue that the city could call its own. In 2000, 61 acres in downtown Las Vegas were acquired from Union Pacific, which is now known as Symphony Park. His influence along with the City of Las Vegas, generous benefactors (such as the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation), and many others, illustrates what Goodman calls “the finest example of what the public-private partnership can accomplish.”

The mayorship torch was passed to Mayor Carolyn G. Goodman in July 2011. Sharing the same positive outlook and vision of growth that her husband, the former mayor, does for the Smith Center, she reveals her thoughts on what effect the Center will have on visitors, and especially the local community of Las Vegas.

“I am confident residents and tourists alike will stream to the Center to see world class theater, opera, concerts, ballet, lecture series and the like…the Center will become the hub for culture and quality in the arts. Las Vegas has long been known for its tourism and entertainment, its convention facilities and its professional sports events. The Smith Center now adds another remarkable and strong attraction,” she says.

Since its opening in March, the Smith Center has welcomed through its doors the legendary Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, global classical music icon Yo-Yo Ma, and author and humorist David Sedaris. Broadway has also arrived and will be there to stay in a series of wildly popular musicals such as WICKED, The Addams Family, Billy Elliott the Musical, the timeless classic West Side Story, and a newer favorite, American Idiot.

Las Vegas resident and blogger, Hannah Birch, is a prime example of the community taking advantage of the shows and performers now offered by the Center. She is thrilled to have an arts venue such as this one grace the presence of the city, which she feels is changing the entertainment game.

“The thing that comes to mind for me is how the Smith Center is allowing people to take the arts scene in Las Vegas seriously again. I’ve heard people lament the casual atmosphere in showrooms on the Strip, complaining about audience members in flip-flops and cut-off shorts instead of the floor length gowns and tuxes of decades ago,” she says.

To be fair, Las Vegas is not completely null and void of quality entertainment. However, what the city is known for is more flashy and gaudy. Singers with multi-year residencies like Barry Manilow, Wayne Newton, Celine Dion, and Donnie and Marie have become Vegas standards. Then there is a variety of Cirque de Soleil shows, stand-up comedy, magic with David Copperfield, the show girls of Jubilee! and Elvis tribute shows. Not to take away from Las Vegas’ continuously thriving shows and attractions along the Strip, the Smith Center distinguishes itself as a fine arts performing hub that brings creative culture events with major global presences from around the U.S. and beyond.

Birch is happy and content that in her experience at the Smith Center, the laid-back atmosphere takes a backseat in becoming more like “Old Vegas.” And even though the Center has more of a classy aura with a dash of panache, she does not see that conflicting with overall audience connection or deterring anyone from taking part in a quality show.

Exemplary of building connections within the community is the Center’s partnership with the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, whose catering sector provides exclusive food service for public and private events held at the new venue. The non-profit organization has been a resource for Las Vegans, providing culinary and hospitality training. The Academy affirms its mission as being “dedicated to its vision of reducing poverty and eliminating unemployment by providing employability and vocational skills to youth, adults, and displaced workers.” A major benefit is that more opportunities for job placements become possible through this partnership with the Smith Center, thus providing stimulation to the local economy.

The Center has also had a positive effect on other arts organizations with a far reaching presence that call Las Vegas home. Founder and artistic director of the Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater, Bernard H. Gaddis, has embraced the Smith Center as both resident and artist. He sees potential in the Smith Center to revitalize the city and establish more businesses in downtown Las Vegas. Furthermore, he seems glad for the opportunity the Smith Center brings to the arts community at large.

“I think it will give people and this community a sense of what it truly can become: a thriving metropolitan city with a voice [and] a community that can make an artistic and cultural difference in the world,” said Gaddis. He later added, “With organizations like mine — the [Las Vegas] Philharmonic, the Nevada Ballet Theatre and up-and-coming opera and theater companies — I think the public will start to realize they have somewhere to go other than the Strip. And that they can be proud to say ‘Look at our city, look at what we have to offer…’”

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