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April 20, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

What can be done with the city’s half-built corporate eyesores?


Boyd Gaming’s unfinished Echelon sits vacant on the Strip.

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

Sun archives

Imagine if the guy who owned the house next door tore it down and started building a cool new palace. Hard to imagine these days, but try to conjure it up. Then imagine that a third of the way into construction, he stopped building, leaving a half-finished shell for you to see from your window.

This is exactly what’s happened here, except instead of a property owner who couldn’t finish a house, we’ve seen companies stop their large commercial projects, leaving behind eyesores that have especially marred certain sections of our most important commercial boulevard, the Las Vegas Strip.

I suspect that if this happened to you, you’d have words with the neighbor and then visit City Hall. To a significant degree, however, this commercial blight has gone unremarked upon.

I can understand a certain reluctance to take action in the years immediately following the 2008 financial crisis, when we were all hoping our companies would stay afloat and were more than willing to give them whatever leeway they required to survive.

But it’s 2012, and it’s time government started forcing the property owners to — at the very least — improve the appearance of these properties, whose current status is driving down everyone else’s property values.

Which do I mean? There’s Echelon and Fontainebleau on the Strip and plenty of half-finished projects in the suburbs, at the Shops at Summerlin Centre, Manhattan West ... I could go on.

This has become a pet issue of Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who said she discovered the county doesn’t have an ordinance that would force property owners to do something to improve the appearance of half-finished properties. The county regulates the safety of dead work sites, which costs the owners fairly significant money, but that’s it.

“You wouldn’t do it in your neighborhood, but [commercial developers] do it on a regular basis,” she said.

Of the Strip, she said, “It’s the jewel, a scenic highway,” and, thus, its appearance should be protected.

Giunchigliani said she might have some leverage on beautification if the developers come in for time extensions or try to make changes to development agreements. She noted, with satisfaction, that Las Vegas Sands had wrapped an unfinished condo tower, which has improved its appearance; Riviera Boulevard, which had been closed, has re-opened; several unused construction cranes have come down; and an MGM Resorts-owned lot across from the Sahara has a new painted wooden fence in place of the old chain link. On the site of the demolished New Frontier, which was supposed to be a replica of the Plaza Hotel in New York City, Giunchigliani said the owners have put up wooden fencing and painted it and are responsible for graffiti cleanup.

“I’ve tried to do some things so it doesn’t look like a bombed-out area,” she said.

A spokesman for Boyd Gaming Corporation, which owns Echelon, said in an email that Boyd “remains committed to having a presence on the Las Vegas Strip. However, work at the Echelon site remains on hold at this time. We are presently developing concepts to enhance the appearance of the site and look forward to working with the county as these plans move forward.”

I look forward to Boyd’s announcement, and I wonder whether the company could have a contest, with artists competing to create a concept for the site. “The Gates” was a well-received conceptual art piece that graced New York City’s Central Park some years ago.

There’s a broader issue here than just the appearance of the Strip or other parts of the valley cursed with half-finished buildings that sit fallow. I’m speaking of the double standard by which corporations get to live by a different set of rules than us. If you declare bankruptcy or strategically default on your house, we’re led to believe there’s something shameful about it. But if a corporation does it, it’s sound strategy. If you left a concrete husk in your neighborhood, you’d face the social opprobrium of neighbors. When corporations do it, we throw up our hands and say, “Ah, what can you do?”

This column originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly, a sister publication of the Las Vegas Sun.

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  1. its strange that so many buildings that are unfinished are owned by people who are in the process of building multi billion dollar resorts and casinos in other parts of the what happened.... they have money to build in other places why not finish these unfinished buildings or spend the money to tear them down....

  2. Detention Center? Mental Health facility? On the strip? Seriously? The lottery headquarters sounds like a winner, but Big Gaming has quashed numerous attempts to get a state lottery here. I don't see them caving on that issue. These buildings should either be completed, "wrapped" or otherwise upgraded, or torn down.

  3. Collican, had you taken a drive down Wilshire Boulevard in LA between Beverly Hills and Westwood, you would have seen lots of these derelict corpses of high-rise buildings. Where are they now? They are still there, but the Economy recovered and, eventually, the market for high-rises recovered, they got completed and sold at a profit.

  4. Why not make one of these unfinished buildings into serving the more eclectic, free-spirited, adventurous travelers into a HOSTEL??? Such places exist throughout the country and world, and most certainly would get the business!

    Offering an up-scale HOSTEL will diversify the Strip even more, add some exciting people to the mix of visitors, and add more culture. It could be advertised as an up-scale traveler option. The big CASINO/RESORT owners would have nothing to fear, as they aren't getting these kind of people through their doors and staying as it is. So business is NOT being taken away from them, it would NOT compete against them. Travelers who faithfully use HOSTELS simply enjoy their choice and way of going.

    Another use would be to offer single bed sleep capsules as they do in Japan and other countries. This would provide, again, a diverfied service, that is well used in other places.

    As one commenter, Camille Pagnotta offered, "It's strange that so many buildings that are unfinished are owned by people who are in the process of building multi billion dollar resorts and casinos in other parts of the what happened.... they have money to build in other places why not finish these unfinished buildings or spend the money to tear them down...." The citizens and residents of Las Vegas are bearing the brunt of establishing and expanding the casino/resort industry, and they virtually get abandoned in their time of need by the owners/corporations of these casino/resorts.

    There is little to no loyalty to the community by these casino/corporate owners. They get every cent that they can and then turn their backs to the locals who support them (via paying taxes, patronizing their establishments, and kind volunteer work). Real neighborly, isn't it?

    Blessings and Peace,

  5. If the Strip is "A jewel, a scenic highway" then the definition of "scenic highway" has recently changed.

  6. I honestly do not think I have read more stupid comments about anything in my life than this article produced. Do you people not follow the the quarterly loss information on the newest properties that have opened? Does the writer of this original article NOT drive neighborhoods and see...there are many instances of BK'd homes, not finished, many condo projects not finished? I think you need to stop trying to take shots at things you obviously have no
    education about.

  7. Where is the historical perspective? The Sands Casino tower took five years to complete. The Landmark Casino took eight years.

    Let the owners figure it out, or buy the properties and finish them!

  8. The permits on these structures most likely will expire. If the projects aren't completed and the owners aren't actively working on them, require them to demo the eyesores. If they don't or refuse, take their other properties.

  9. So, because it took the Sands five years to finish, we're just going to do nothing about the eyesores that have been there for four (?). Also, I never suggested we force them to complete the projects. Las Vegas Sands spent $1 million to wrap its unfinished condo tower, which has improved the quality of the structure immensely. Why can't other companies do the same?

  10. I work for Boyd Gaming. And I'm as disappointed as the next guy about the current status of Echelon Place. But I am thankful that the tough decision to delay this project probably saved thousands of our jobs. The difference between putting capital into the shrinking demand on the strip or investing in Boyd's local properties is what has kept our company healthy during this financial crisis. Remember, Boyd made a serious play for Stations Casinos. I'm a layman, I don't know the ins and outs of business. Maybe Boyd could have bought the Fountaibleau for pennys on the dollar, slappped a Stardust sign on the top and called it a day. Whatever. But I will say this. Better times will be here. And when they come, Echelon will be a reminder to locals not only of this sad past, but how we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, lessons learned, and brought ourselves back even better than before. Think foward.

  11. I just miss the Stardust.........:(

  12. Echelon is the Stardust redux, which sat as a concrete shell, empty and unfinished in the middle fifties for many months if not for a couple of years.

    It's history repeating itself, and so it goes.

  13. Denro, you forget that fifty years ago Las Vegas was the only place to gamble. Now they have competition in several states. Maybe another fifty years and everyone will be burned out on gambling and all of them will close except Las Vegas,then they can finish Echelon and Fontainebleau.

  14. Did Steve Wynn ask you to write this article??? I know he is fuming about the horrendous wasteland view across the street from WynnCore's high roller suites.

  15. To my fellow bloggers;

    Make it into something else, re-vamp, remodel, restore. I can not believe somebody in this community, with all the talent and know how here, cannot think of something that would improve this situation by now. What are we paying our civic leaders for? Just an old cop reflecting,

    Gordon Martines.....CURRE.ORG

    p.s. you are going to be needing a new county jail soon.

  16. I don't think Las Vegas is the right place for those who primarily focus on the negative things around them, and spend too much time wringing their hands and wishing someone would do something about everything.

  17. Condemn the properties, take by Imminent Domain, and work a deal with whomever promises to IMMEDIATELY resume construction or destruction of said properties...

    As for the unfinished 'mall' property adjacent to Station's Red Rock Casino in Summerlin...


  18. I don't understand why Coolican would support covering up the unfinished buildings because they're an "eyesore", yet he supports keeping the freaks and beggars on the Strip which are an even worse "eyesore" and some are criminals...what a hypocrite!

  19. Hmmm.. I know of plenty of Finished eyesores that look much worse then these unfinished places.

  20. It's time to make the city the brothel capital of the world and legalize prostitution within the city limits. Turn them into cathouses with quality women and watch the money roll in. Let's stop being hypocritical about it- legalize it all including most drugs, and start making money that would pay for healthcare and create new jobs. People will never stop spending money on things and services that make them feel good. It didn't work during Prohibition and drug enforcement is a waste of time now, for sure.