Las Vegas Sun file photo
Thursday, July 14, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas didn’t become a world-class tourist destination overnight. It took decades to build that identity with the help of big dreamers who possessed the willpower, political savvy and financial capability to turn their visions into reality. Gaming mogul Steve Wynn, who ushered in the modern megaresort era when he opened the Mirage in 1989, quickly comes to mind.
But for every realized dream, there have been dozens of bloated ideas that drifted away with the desert wind. Time will tell whether the latest batch of dreamers, those proposing new sports complexes across town, will become Southern Nevada’s latest successful visionaries or join the following list of wannabes.
Photo by Courtesy of Faiss Foley Warren Public Relations
That was what reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes was rumored to have in mind during the Korean War when he traded land in Northern Nevada to the federal government for more than 20,000 acres on the west end of the valley, Look magazine reported in 1968. Other rumors were that the famed aviator wanted to convert that desert patch into a new airport for supersonic jets or move an aircraft production plant there from California. Instead, the land was used to build Summerlin, the valley’s largest master-planned community.
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LAS VEGAS PARK
Las Vegas Park was hardly Churchill Downs. The creation of New York promoter Joseph Smoot, who helped build Santa Anita Park in Southern California, the local $4.5 million track for thoroughbreds opened in September 1953 but stumbled out of the gate. The infield tote board collapsed, betting windows for high rollers suffered malfunctions and the facility generated poor attendance. It managed only 13 racing days that fall and had seven weeks of action the following year for quarter horses. Sporadic auto racing followed but the last was in 1959. The track was eventually replaced by the Las Vegas Hilton, Las Vegas Convention Center and Las Vegas Country Club.
Photo by Sam Morris/Las Vegas Sun
Floyd Lamb State Park is a nice place to visit but Las Vegas residents Edward and Mona Sher proposed spicing it up with a world-class zoo that would take up at least 100 acres, the size of the San Diego Zoo. It was actually the second time someone thought the park would be a great place to see exotic animals. But Edward Sher, who made money as a real estate developer and theatrical manager, and his wife offered to spend $2 million of their money on preliminary planning and a feasibility study. The study came back with the disappointing news that Las Vegas wasn’t suited for a major zoo. When the Shers approached the Las Vegas City Council in 2004 to measure interest in a tax-subsidized zoo, the proposal fell on deaf ears and the idea faded away.
Photo by R. Marsh Starks/Las Vegas Sun file photo
The late Bob Stupak, a colorful businessman and gambler who ran the Vegas World casino and conceived the Stratosphere, thought he hit on another brainstorm when he proposed a resort patterned after the infamous passenger liner that sank in the Atlantic Ocean in 1912 after striking an iceberg on its maiden voyage. He told reporters in 1999 that he hoped to raise $1.2 billion to finance the project by selling time shares in a resort that he envisioned would be 400 feet high, more than double the height of the real Titanic. But neighboring property owners despised the idea, and the Las Vegas City Council refused to rezone the property to accommodate his request.
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OTHER FAILED THEMES
Architect Martin Stern, who helped design many of the earliest Strip resorts, came up with Xanadu, an Asian-themed hotel featuring a stepped pyramid and a huge atrium. It didn’t fly. Another giant of the gaming world, Jay Sarno of Caesars Palace and Circus Circus fame, dreamed up the Grandissimo, complete with carnival rides, a tennis complex and rooftop swimming pool. It didn’t get off the ground either. Neither did Michael Henderson’s Moon resort, a pair of San Francisco-themed casinos including City by the Bay, a World Wrestling Federation destination, Paul Lowden’s Palace of the Sea water-themed hotel, a Turnberry Associates’ nod to London, complete with Big Ben, and the ITT Corp. proposal to build Desert Kingdom, featuring the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Seven Cities of Gold and Shangri-La.
Photo by Leila Navidi/Las Vegas Sun
Few issues have given the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority more heartburn than the four-year debate over whether to finance a spring training facility in Henderson for Major League Baseball. The city spent $8 million to acquire land based on assurances the authority would back a plan to build a 5,000-seat stadium complex with 24 adjacent ball fields for four teams. Tempers flared among board members as the debate dragged on. But when the estimated cost rose from $30 million to $60 million, and analysts found the complex would attract only 19,000 visitors each spring, the board in 1997 put the kibosh on the proposal.
/Las Vegas National Sports Center
Downtown Las Vegas has the land and easy access to the Spaghetti Bowl, but it is also a burial ground for proposed sports arenas and stadiums that looked good on the drawing board and stayed there. There was Texan Paul Tanner, who announced plans in 1996 for the world’s largest domed stadium, a 110,000-seat facility, after his company purchased 61 acres from Union Pacific Railroad for $45 million. Two years later he declared bankruptcy. Then came Wynn in 1999 with an idea for an 18,000-seat arena, and Southwest Sports Group in 2001 with a plan for a city-financed minor league baseball stadium. Neither dream gained traction. Boyd Gaming stepped forward in 2002 with a proposed 7,500-seat arena for minor league hockey, boxing and concerts but a decision by the Las Vegas Wranglers to play their hockey at the Orleans Arena killed Boyd’s plans. Seven prospective competitors threw their hats in the ring in 2007 when the city went shopping for another arena developer, but the winner of that competition, REI Neon LLC of Michigan, delivered only empty promises. AEG, another developer interested in that project, caught the downtown “disease” after announcing with Harrah’s Entertainment in 2007 a plan to build a 20,000-seat arena behind the Bally’s and Paris Las Vegas for professional basketball and hockey. The Great Recession ruined that dream.
Photo by Leila Navidi
Japanese developer Masao Nangaku, who at the time owned the Dunes resort, embarked in 1990 on a $90 million dream to erect a 35-story office and retail complex along Las Vegas Boulevard South. But the project stalled by late 1991, leaving only a gigantic hole for the tower’s basement and foundation. Nangaku gave the nearly 6-acre site to the city, which in turned allowed the federal government to build its George Federal Building there.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Sun File Photo
Leave it to Wynn to come up with a $25 million plan to turn downtown into a series of canals, à la Venice, a concept he pitched in 1991 when his company, Mirage Resorts, owned the Golden Nugget. The idea garnered widespread media attention but also criticism from those who viewed the proposal as a symbol of wasted water in the middle of a thirsty desert, even though Wynn intended to use recycled wastewater. That idea faded but in a twist of fate it was Wynn who recruited Jon Jerde, the architect who designed the light show canopy for the Fremont Street Experience.
Photo by Sam Morris
Bill Flangas was a mining engineer at the Nevada Test Site when he approached Clark County commissioners in 1974 with a proposal to construct a subway running from McCarran International Airport, down the Strip, past Las Vegas City Hall to North Las Vegas City Hall and points beyond. He also told the commissioners the tunnel would “serve as a major conduit for passage of floodwaters during a major storm, and also as a receptacle for underground utilities ...” But the county sat on the idea and it went nowhere. Years later community leaders opted instead for the Las Vegas Monorail, which is trying to fight its way out of bankruptcy.