Downtown Henderson begins revamp with opening of Lifeguard Arena

Often overlooked, the area featuring the Silver Knights’ new practice facility is providing the first step in a facelift that was much needed.

The first time I spoke with Henderson mayor Debra March was days removed from her being named mayor-elect in April 2017. The conversation in question was about groundbreaking on a 125,000-square-foot building that would house Turano Bread Co., a popular bread chain that operated primarily in the midwest for nearly six decades.

During this phone conversation, March mentioned not only how this would be great for job creation in Henderson, but that it would set off a chain reaction for what was to come. One drive down the strip of pavement from Eastern Avenue to Interstate 15, and it’s evident — business buildings, apartment complexes, restaurants (with more to come), Costco, and even the Las Vegas Raiders’ practice facility — that a boom was coming.

March also spoke of her plans to revitalize Downtown Henderson, a proud community that had been long-overlooked due to the suburban growth. It would take time, she said, but with proper logistics, it could be the cherry on top for turning Henderson into an every-area destination.

She didn’t think the City of Henderson would house a practice facility for a professional hockey team on Water Street three years ago, but the opening of Lifeguard Arena on Tuesday not only signaled the beginning of the era of the Henderson Silver Knights, but the beginning of a culture change in Henderson.

“This is a gamechanger for Water Street,” March said. “Not only are we seeing a huge economic investment in the area because of this facility; this facility will bring a lot of activity and programming to families in the community. It’s nice to have locations where events can happen in our community, where we can have cultural events, where we can bring people together and have quality experiences.”

The Silver Knights setting up shop in Downtown Henderson is a microcosm of what the Vegas Golden Knights accomplished since their inception; showing that Southern Nevada is more than just the Strip. Summerlin being the hub for City National Arena, and its close proximity to T-Mobile Arena, is a prime example.

Not only did the Silver Knights cater to the centralized valley — building the Henderson Events Center in place of the Henderson Pavilion on Paseo Verde Parkway, the future home for Silver Knights games two years from now — but for tending to the crowd that still calls Downtown Henderson home. Lifeguard Arena will overlook the Water Street Plaza, which is on schedule to be completed next year. That’s where fans can organize hockey watch parties and an area to relax, for example.

“This truly is activating the downtown Water Street area. It’s really come alive down here,” March said. “For folks who haven’t come down here, I encourage them to. We’ve got great connectivity and lots of activities. It’s exciting to see that.”

The plan was to build Lifeguard Arena nearly to the T of City National Arena. It’s nearly the same layout — two practice rinks, a team store (The Livery), a skate rental area, and a Mackenzie River Pizza perched on the second level. If the Golden Knights wanted the Silver Knights to mimic their experience, mission accomplished.

It’s been a busy week for the Silver Knights — unveiling their inaugural sweaters Monday, and then opening the doors to their home the next — but the uncertainty of when we’ll actually see AHL Henderson take the ice remains up in the air. The AHL is still planning for a Feb. 5 start date, but that’s contingent on when the NHL gets things going. The plan, as of now, is for the NHL to still start Jan. 1.

Hopefully by then, first-year coach Manny Viveiros will have an idea of what his roster will look like, and he and his soon-to-be-named coaching staff can get to work.

“Just within the last month, how much work they’ve done in the downtown area and talking to the mayor [a couple of weeks ago], kind of a revival thing ... it’s a scenario where people can come together in a safe environment and really enjoy it,” Viveiros said. “There’s nothing better than a sport bringing people together, especially in a time like this.”

Lifeguard Arena is just another example of the Golden Knights organization trying to leave their imprint on the Southern Nevada metroplex, and so far, that’s led to a roaring success. The opulence of the Silver Knights will predicate on how much they can breathe life to Downtown Henderson, but if the investment in the minor-league franchise is as bountiful as the NHL club, that shouldn’t be a problem.

“The way the community reacted to the Golden Knights, we saw an opportunity that was a little bit different in what would’ve been traditionally been an AHL model, and it’s going to be successful,” said Golden Knights president Kerry Bubolz. “We’re very excited about it.”