I really want to be proven wrong, but I predict that the creator of Neonopolis is about to be swindled out of his personal fortune by the members of the Fremont Street Experience LLC that run our Downtown. It amazes me how history can repeat itself in such short order in our fair city, but I predict that the fate bestowed on Florida developer Bob Snow in the late 80s is about to befall the unsuspecting Neonopolis developer.
Snow's project failed in 1990 for lack of the right Downtown location and a high tech transportation system to get people there from the Strip. Now its 2002, and there's still no convenient way for tourists to go to Downtown. The promising locale is still completely landlocked!
Bob Snow was an outsider who tried to persuade the City Council to invest tax payer's money in his dream of a five-story hotel/casino/shopping mall on the southwest corner of Fremont and Las Vegas Blvd. He also dreamed of a MagLev train running from the airport - then down the middle of the Strip into Downtown - stopping at his front door.
The then-Council killed Snow's original proposal because of eminent domain problems at the Fremont and Las Vegas Blvd. site, and Steve Wynn not wanting the train inspiring his customers to travel away from the Strip, so Snow shifted his dream to another Downtown site and put his MagLev train idea on hold. The Council then doled out $23 million Downtown Redevelopment dollars to supplement Snow's personal $41 million investment with the RTC donating an underpass at Ogden and Main St. Three months after the opening of Main Street Station, Snow went bankrupt!
Snow's originally chosen site across from Neonopolis is now the home of the mostly empty five-story parking garage - the bare framework of what he envisioned. Since the garage was built, the taxpayers unwittingly invested an additional $35 million in another garage, this one located under Neonopolis. Why?
Let's see how this works: The taxpayers in 1998, under the direction of former Mayor Jan Jones - a veiled investor in the FSE LLC, fortuitously paid $35 million Downtown Redevelopment dollars to build another completely unneeded underground garage for Neonopolis - a project that at the time was only in conceptual form. Then, four years later, out of state investors actually built the shopping and entertainment center - a project that could double as something else in an "emergency."
History has shown that only a casino can survive on that hallowed ground. If Neonopolis succeeds, and I hope it will, my next prediction will be groundless, but if history repeats itself, the old five story parking garage is about to be converted into the legally needed hotel rooms required to gain an unlimited gaming license for the "chosen" operator about to pilfer Neonopolis from the original developer, and I can assure you that an outsider will not be Neonopolis' future operator if local history holds true. Outsiders are just not welcome in the clique of casino barons who run this town.
Imagine that the new underground parking garage is there to replace the adjacent mostly empty garage that will be converted into hotel rooms. Imagine that the space for the movie theater in Neonopolis and the first floor of the old garage are soon to be converted into casino space. Imagine that the taxpayers that shelled out the $35 million to build the new underground garage are about to be converted into fools for the umpteenth time. And, last but not least, imagine that a present partner in the Fremont St. Experience LLC is about to become the owner and operator of Neonopolis and the city owned parking garages as an "emergency measure" designed to salvage another failing project and shore up the taxpayer's $35 million investment -- and you can see where I'm going: the Neonopolis Hotel and Casino!
I'm intimately familiar with how these land grabbing scams work in Downtown. I regret that I did not foresee Bob Snow's fate or stay in City Hall long enough to help him before it was too late and the $64 million investment that he and the local unsuspecting taxpayers made in Main St. Station was dumped for $14 million. Now the FSE LLC's Boyd Group owns his dream project - and they bought it for a song.
If Neonopolis follows the same path as Snow's Main St. Station blunder, it will become another taxpayer-funded casino in the hands of one of the favored FSE LLC bargain hunters.
I hope and pray I'm wrong!
Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman and Clark County Regional Transportation Commissioner. Visit his website at: http://www.SteveMiller4LasVegas.com