These are painful times, so let’s begin with a painful metaphor. The recession has been some sort of horrible dental drill, boring through the surface of the city, hitting nerves and leaving plenty of empty spaces: Shopping centers and office buildings with unoccupied suites, mixed-used developments that wound up neither mixed nor used.
All of which leaves us with a choice: have a town full of gaping holes, invitations to squatters and blight, or get cultural and civic organizations to work together with landlords to temporarily fill these spaces with something of value. Seasonal cooperative craft stores, studio and gallery space, educational space, small nonprofit bookstores, cooking and computer classes—all would keep spaces lively and contribute to the community. And we’re talking about reduced rent, not free rent, so landlords would at least be bringing in some income on space that would otherwise be vacant.
It’s not as if the notion is unheard of: This past summer, unused space at the Galleria at Sunset mall in Henderson was used for the interactive Ends of the Earth exhibit, a celebration of the Arctic and Antarctic presented by the Henderson Space and Science Center and Science North. Just a couple of miles down Sunset Road, another large empty space—the old United Artists Theatres in Green Valley Town Center, presents an excellent opportunity: Why not turn the theaters over to a cooperative cinema group that could use the space as a nonprofit center to exhibit local independent films, classic cinema and foreign films? Why not make them available for live productions as well?
When you stop to think about it, it’s not such a wild idea to make use of useless space. We’ve paved over a lot of desert around here; let’s at least make sure we’re getting adequate replacement value.