Why another downtown parking garage???
Has anyone stopped to ask just why the taxpayers are being forced to pay an additional $17 million for another downtown parking garage? Neonopolis is located just across the street from a mostly empty red parking garage that was built with taxpayer's money in 1993, and immediately gifted to the downtown casino owners.
The red parking garage boondoggle has already cost city taxpayers millions of dollars in lost revenue that was supposed to be generated through the leasing of 64,000 sq. feet of retail space boarded up since the garage was opened in 1993. In addition to the lost leasehold revenue the red garage continues to cost taxpayers close to $1 million in legal fees squandered fighting the illegal eminent domain taking of Carol Pappas' 7000 sq. foot property once located on the corner of Las Vegas Blvd. and Carson St. Now we are building another parking garage!
Carol Pappas watches as her property is leveled by the city
One of former Mayor Jan Jones' possible conflicts of interests was her 1995 purchase of stock in Mirage Resorts, Inc., the owner of the downtown Golden Nugget. The Golden Nugget is a partner in the Fremont Street Experience, LLC, the present owner of the red parking garage.
Since Jones purchased her shares in Mirage/Golden Nugget and became an indirect owner of the red parking garage she has continuously voted on matters affecting the ongoing litigation with Mrs. Pappas.
Pappas was offered a total of $480,000 for her corner back in 1993, and she has refused to pick up her check arguing that the offer was well below market value for the corner property. The courts have agreed and the case in on appeal in the Nevada Supreme Court. The city continues to defend its' actions at taxpayer's expense even though the taxpayers no longer own the red parking garage. See George Magazine, March 1998
Unexplainably, Jones voted in 1995 to pay $4.3 million for another 7000 sq. foot parcel that was also taken to build the red parking garage. This parcel was owned by former Senator Chic Hecht, a friend of Jones and a major stockholder in the Boyd Group, the owner of the California Hotel and Main Street Station. Boyd Group is a partner with the Golden Nugget in the Fremont Street Experience, LLC. Hecht happily accepted the taxpayer's largesse and later became a consultant for Neonopolis for $150,000 per year.
Mrs. Pappas does not own stock in any corporation involved in the Fremont Street Experience, LLC. Mrs. Pappas' property, owned by her family for more that 50 years, was on a corner. Senator Hecht's property was in the middle of the block. It is common knowledge that corner property is more valuable than property located in the middle of a block. Why then is the Pappas matter still unresolved? Putting this issue to rest should be a priority of freshman Mayor Oscar Goodman before the taxpayers are saddled with additional legal fees. Oscar does not need to carry on this injustice created by his predecessor. Meanwhile we are building another parking garage.
Upon recent examination of the existing red parking garage I discovered that the street level ceiling elevation is 18 feet and all other levels have a ceiling height of 9 feet. I asked local architect Ken Mahal to take a look at the red garage and give me his evaluation. He told me that standard parking garage ceiling height is 9 feet. He marveled at the 18-foot height of the first level of the present garage and remarked that 18 feet is very excessive for the stated purpose. I inquired as to why this is the case and Mahal responded that, in his opinion, the first level was originally designed to be something other than a parking garage.
Florida developer Bob Snow in the late 1980s designed a hotel/casino to be located on the site of the red parking garage. It was to be known as Church Street Station. He later moved his project to where it became the Main Street Station. In his plans for the original site he showed a first level consisting of a casino and retail stores. The space above was to be occupied by 200 guestrooms. His architectural plan was similar to the Barbary Coast on the Strip.
Now the taxpayers are paying another $17 million for a new underground parking garage right next door to a perfectly good, albeit empty, red parking garage! Reasonable people should ask why?
I can only speculate that the red parking garage will soon be converted into a hotel/casino similar to Bob Snow's design by one of the members of the Fremont Street Experience, LLC. If this occurs then it can be speculated that former Mayor Jones may have knowingly misused the city's power of eminent domain to have taken private property from Mrs. Pappas to give to her (Jones') partners in the LLC who now own the red garage. This would mean that in 1993, the LLC owners might have received free land and free money to build the superstructure of a future hotel/casino. In order for this possible scheme to continue to go undetected, the Pappas matter would have to be resolved immediately.
According to the Owner Participation Agreement between the casinos and the city regarding the red parking garage, any future expense over a cap of $7.5 million must be paid by the LLC, not the taxpayers. This cap was exceeded when Jones voted to buy Hecht's land. The taxpayers have no further legal reason to pay the attorney bills of the LLC in their defense of the Pappas lawsuit. The taxpayers are also not obligated to pay Mrs. Pappas the fair market value of her property. The legal burden now rests only on the LLC owners who stand to benefit the most by clearing up this matter.
Mayor Goodman should cut the city free from future legal expenses in the Pappas' case. If the LLC casinos are alone in their legal battle with Mrs. Pappas, they will be more inclined to settle the matter. If not the red garage will remain empty of cars while the new garage is being used. How will this oddity look to the taxpayers, and how will Mayor Goodman answer their questions?
Conspiracy theorists might conclude that this scheme was never meant to be made public during its' possible origin back in the late 1980s. If such a plan were previously known, then the use of eminent domain to take Pappas' property would not have been legal or justified. Theorists could also speculate that in such a scheme the city needed to falsely portray the red garage as having been needed for "cars " and therefore a legal "public use." Meanwhile it remains mostly empty while a new garage is being built.
Conspiracy theorists might also ask if the red garage's real purpose was to be a future hotel/casino to be owned by one of Jones' downtown cronies? If so, was it also planned that it be partly paid for by the taxpayers without their knowledge? Of course this is only a theory.
It is time for Mayor Goodman to "cut bait" and let the casinos pay their own way in this matter. With Mrs. Pappas' property bought and paid for by the LLC at the same valuation as was paid to Sen. Hecht, the red garage can in practicality be converted into a hotel/casino to compliment Neonopolis and be a welcome addition to downtown. Of course the taxpayers must be reimbursed for their investment. If this is not accomplished then the Jan Jones legacy will continue and the Pappas matter may languish in the courts for another six years while the red garage continues to remain empty.
Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman. Visit his website at: www.stevemiller4lasvegas.com