“Are you looking for AREA15?” asked the parking attendant. Yes, though it doesn’t exist … yet.
The only signs of “life” at a worn-down parking lot off Rancho Drive and Desert Inn Road are two temporary art installations: the upcycled scissor lift BalanceVille and Tyler FuQua’s “fallen robot” Mechan 9.
These installations mark the future site and aesthetic of a 126,000-square-foot retail and entertainment complex—expected to open mid-2019 and designed to meld curated shopping, live performances, exclusive dining options, esports, virtual reality experiences, and interactive art, including the first permanent Las Vegas exhibition by Santa Fe, New Mexico-based art collective, Meow Wolf.
In simple terms, “AREA15 is for anyone who likes cool stuff,” says Winston Fisher, partner of the property’s development firm Fisher Brothers. It’s an “immersive bazaar.” But it’s also a post-apocalyptic playground, designed to feel like stepping into the landscape of Mad Max, with unique features such as “mutant vehicles” (a la Burning Man art cars) and an “interactive sculpture.” Oh, and about 800 free parking spaces. It’s all a part of the AREA15 experience.
Fisher Brothers purchased the AREA15 site—formerly home to a Mercedes car dealership and Scandia Fun Center—almost a decade ago. About two years ago, Fisher Brothers partnered with fellow New Yorker Michael Beneville of Beneville Studios (well-known for creating interactive design elements) to start formulating the concept of AREA15. “He’s a Burner,” Fisher says of Burning Man enthusiast Beneville. “I’m a comic geek. We’re both lovers of counter-culture. … You’ve got to build what you love.”
The name AREA15 is of course a nod to the lore of Southern Nevada Air Force Base detachment “Area 51,” a rumored site of extraterrestrial activity and flight testing that was acquired by the U.S. Government in 1955 but claimed “not to exist” until it was formally acknowledged by the CIA in 2013. (Also: AREA15 sits just west of Interstate 15 and Fisher Brothers was founded in 1915.)
Fitting for its military namesake, the AREA15 complex is structured into five “zones” with designated, but flexible functions. There’s a 10,000-square-foot food hall, expected to include six to eight food carts with rotating concepts from local chefs, a 10,000-square-foot event hall for social and corporate buyouts, a 3,000 capacity outdoor venue (for “drone races, night flea markets and open-air cinema”) and 30,000-square-foot centerpiece, the “Spine,” where you can admire art installations such as BARTKRESA’s 3D projection mapped Shogyo Mujo skull, IBUKU’s mesmerizing bamboo work and Las Vegas artist Henry Chang’s The Flux Capacitor art car. Last but not least is 70,000 square feet of curated tenant space, including Meow Wolf’s highly anticipated exhibition.
Meow Wolf co-founder and CEO Vince Kadlubek says the exhibition inside AREA15 will be “three times” the size of House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe. That means Las Vegas will welcome about 60,000 square feet of Meow Wolf funhouse. (A Meow Wolf Denver expansion was announced earlier this month.)
Renderings courtesy of AREA15
“There’s no other retail space or mall or entertainment space saying that art is valuable. Creativity is valuable,” Kadlubek says. “We just had to be a part of that.”
Kadlubek also says that Meow Wolf’s 2017 pop-up exhibit at Life Is Beautiful helped open their eyes to a permanent Las Vegas exhibit. “Our experience last year really shifted a lot of perceptions on our team about Las Vegas.” (Meow Wolf also exhibited a pop-up at the festival in 2015.) “As people were lined up to go inside the Life Is Beautiful exhibition, we were talking to them. People were saying, ‘Please come to Las Vegas. Please open a permanent [exhibition] here.’ … We’re excited to make something for the population that lives here. It’s for families. All ages. It’s for artists and the creative population who lives here.”
Kadlubek, Fisher and Beneville all emphasized a desire for local involvement. Meow Wolf’s website already includes an interest form to participate in the AREA15 exhibit and Beneville says there is a “call out to artists who know what it’s like to be in Las Vegas.”
Images courtesy of AREA15
“We knew going into this: Don’t compete with the Strip,” Fisher says. “What you see on the Strip is incredible, but what you see in the local community is equally incredible. There’s a lot of demand, a lot of talent.”
Fisher says that the Las Vegas AREA15 is the “first,” with hints of the possibility of additional locations in the future. For now, though, “you’ll actually see a shovel in the ground in April,” he says. Tenants should have access to transform their spaces by the end of this year before the 2019 opening.
To hold you over for that year and a half, remember Fisher’s description of AREA15: “It’s a mall. It’s just a mall that’s really cool.”
We can’t wait for our parents to drop us off.