Wednesday, March 15, 2000 | 11:11 a.m.
Controversial plans for a North Las Vegas neighborhood casino have been resurrected by Station Casinos Inc.
The North Las Vegas Planning Commission on March 22 is scheduled to consider an application by Station to build "Craig Ranch Station," a Mediterranean-themed casino on Martin Luther King Boulevard just south of Craig Road.
Documents filed with the commission indicate the property would feature a 69,000-square-foot casino, 200-room hotel and an 18-screen movie theater. The hotel-casino would be based on nearly 34 acres of land now owned by Desert Mesa Land Partners Ltd.
Glenn Christenson, chief financial officer of Station, cautioned that a deal had yet to be finalized.
"This (the application) is simply part of a due diligence process on another piece of property we're examining in North Las Vegas," Christenson said.
Christenson would not say if Station was negotiating a purchase, lease or joint venture with Desert Mesa.
"It's probably inappropriate to discuss that," Christenson said. "Desert Mesa is a private organization. We'd prefer not to discuss it at this point in time."
In a letter to North Las Vegas' city manager, a Station executive played up the project as a "dynamic" project that would have "minimal impact on surrounding development."
"Station Casino research indicates significant pent-up demand for dining, gaming and entertainment alternatives in the Martin Luther King and Craig Road corridor," wrote Mark Brown, Station executive vice president, in a Feb. 28 letter to North Las Vegas City Manager Pat Importuna.
Station currently owns Texas Station at the intersection of Lake Mead Boulevard and Rancho Drive in North Las Vegas.
"North Las Vegas is a great market," Christenson said. "We've been very successful at Texas Station. It's a rapidly growing portion of Las Vegas."
Though new for Station, the project is not new for North Las Vegas. It was first proposed in October 1998 by NevStar Gaming and Entertainment Corp., which planned to spend $140 million on a hotel-casino it dubbed "NevStar 2000."
Though it ultimately won approval for the project in court after a pitched battle with city officials, NevStar ran into financial difficulties and declared bankruptcy in December 1999. Its bankruptcy petition was rejected, and the company's only property, the Mesquite Star hotel-casino in Mesquite, is now closed.
NevStar's right of first refusal to develop on the property has since expired, leaving the door open for Station to develop the project. But Station doesn't want to become involved in the same kind of political firefight that accompanied the NevStar proposal.
"There were entitlements for gaming (at the site)," Christenson said. "It's certainly a concern from an acquiror's standpoint, to make sure there won't be a problem with gaming entitlement."
Mike Montandon, mayor of North Las Vegas, was an opponent of NevStar's original plans to develop the site. He said his mind hasn't changed about the site's suitability for gaming.
"I opposed the NevStar casino because I didn't feel it was a very good site, and I didn't feel the NevStar design was ever going to work," Montandon said. "I don't feel it's a terribly appropriate site for a casino, but a judge does, and he trumps me."
NevStar's initial application breezed through the North Las Vegas Planning Commission in October 1998. But the North Las Vegas City Council shot it down one month later, following determined opposition from city residents and officials.
Less than three months later, a state judge ruled that the city council's actions were "arbitrary and capricious," since the land parcel was zoned for gaming. The judge then forced the city to issue the necessary permits.
At 69,000 square feet, the casino proposed by Station is nearly twice the size of that proposed with NevStar 2000, although Station plans to scratch plans to build an amphitheater "because of the noise impact to surrounding neighborhoods."
Future expansions contemplated by Station in the future could add nearly 140,000 square feet of gaming space, restaurants, retail, meeting and entertainment space to the complex. If Station does proceed with a deal, few changes are expected to plans filed with the city.
Although the use license issued by the city council is still valid, Station is requesting a one-year extension of this license to complete construction and amend the original NevStar plans. The license is now set to expire in February 2001.
"This will allow us to construct the project to the high standards that the citizens and city council are entitled to," Brown wrote. Brown's letter, however, did not indicate a timetable for construction or the potential cost of the project.
Though Montandon has not seen the plans filed by Station, he expressed optimism now that the project was in the company's hands.
"There's no question Station has the capacity to build a much better casino than NevStar could have ever considered," Montandon said. "They have a much better track record."
The hotel-casino would be the latest in a recent string of expansion announcements by Station.
On Monday, Station announced plans to build a resort casino in Green Valley in a joint partnership with American Nevada Corp. The same day, the company said it was contemplating beginning construction of a casino on Durango Drive in southwest Las Vegas within several years.
Currently, Station operates four hotel-casinos in the Las Vegas market.