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Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: Why is the successful Mob Museum asking for a handout?

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Crime pays: Las Vegas’ Mob Museum is doing so well, it’s already repaid the city on part of its initial investment.
Photo: Steve Marcus

Bob Stoldal, the white-haired Channel 3 news exec with some 40 years in business, is one of the more likable news people in Las Vegas. And I say that with full appreciation for his innate ability to mellifluously tell someone where to go if they rub him the wrong way.

I was on the receiving end of a somewhat colorful berating more than 10 years ago when I interviewed him for a Las Vegas Life story about the weakness of local television news coverage. At the time, local TV news was infamous among newspaper writers for doing “how-to” stories: how to avoid bee stings; how not to lock a kid in a hot car; how to avoid ... you get the idea.

Las Vegas Life printed some of his @#*&$-laced tirade in answering my question, and I always thought Stoldal appreciated that. I respected his candor, humor and intelligence, and his knack for staying focused. I asked questions, he answered. He didn’t hide from anything and certainly didn’t hold a grudge. Over the years, we stayed in contact, so I reached out again recently, this time for a question regarding the Mob Museum.

Stoldal sits on the Mob Museum’s board. He’s also a member of the Las Vegas Centennial Commission. His obsession with local history is well-known, and maybe stems from the fact that he’s reported on many of Las Vegas’ comings and goings for almost half of its young life. Visit the Nevada State Museum some weekend and you might find him hunched over books or files, seeking the precise date and time of some event, or the long-forgotten background of a name on a Downtown street sign. He knows history, and he understands reporters. So he was perfect to pepper with my questions.

Earlier this week, the Centennial Commission was to consider a grant request of $61,400 from the city’s Mob Museum. The money was to be used to create a 40-minute audio tour in Spanish and Mandarin. The meeting was canceled Monday and will be held May 5.

My question was simple: Open two years, the museum is doing so well it recently repaid the city the first $1.5 million of $6 million. The city’s $1.5 million investment resulted from the Federal Historic Tax Credit Program. The museum cost $42 million, and was funded through federal, state and local grants, including general fund sources of about $12.4 million.

So I asked Bob, along with some public relations people: With the museum such a success, why is it asking for more money from the city? Can’t it pay for the audio tour from the museum’s revenue?

First, Stoldal said, because he sits on both boards, he would recuse himself from voting. Second, he added, he would have been disappointed if the museum had not applied for the money. “Any nonprofit agency has the right to apply for any grant,” he said. “I would hope that the Mob Museum, the Nevada State Museum, the Natural History Museum, all would seek as many grants as possible.”

Furthermore, Stoldal noted a bit of arcanum from deep in the memory vaults of his armchair-historian mind. The Centennial Commission’s available grant money isn’t really the city’s. Back in 2001, current City Councilman Bob Coffin was a state senator. At the time, he passed legislation with bipartisan support to issue special license plates commemorating Las Vegas’ 100th anniversary. Buyers paid an extra fee for the plate, and collected fees went into a fund that could be used to defray the costs of the city’s centennial celebration. The money could also be used for Las Vegas “historical markers, tours of historic sites and improvements to or restoration of historic buildings.”

Even in his early 70s, nothing slips by Stoldal, not even the occasional smart-ass remark. As the consummate newsman gave me a tour of the Channel 3 offices on Foremaster Lane, I pointed out that one day, maybe soon, he could be part of a museum himself.

He pointed to an ear, indicating he wanted me to stop mumbling and talk louder.

I didn’t repeat myself. He merely smiled.

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Joe Schoenmann

A native Wisconsinite, Joe earned a journalism degree to get out of college early but wanted none of the craft ...

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