Tuesday, March 28, 2000 | 11:12 a.m.
John Woodrum remembers the long, dusty drive through the desert to a rickety old motel he had just bought for a million dollars.
It was 25 years ago and in the summer heat, the trip to the Klondike motel seemed like an eternity. Woodrum passed most of the time assuring his panicked wife that their new 6-acre property was this side of the state line.
"By the time we passed the Hacienda (then the last resort on the south end of the Las Vegas Strip), my wife was convinced I bought a place in California," Woodrum said.
"I made a good decision, but my wife was right at the time. I was crazy."
Woodrum's motel and similar aging motels on the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip are no longer desert oases for Interstate 15 truckers. With the megaresort boom in the 1990s, the motels have involuntarily become part of the world's most-famous resort corridor.
The value of the land the motels sit on has skyrocketed, and Woodrum knows that when he decides to sell he'll make millions. Woodrum said the going price for property along the Strip is $2 million an acre.
In the meantime, however, he and other small hotel owners believe Clark County officials are targeting them in an effort to make way for more megaresorts.
County code enforcement crews descended upon the Olympus Inn earlier this month and cited the property owners for offenses as serious as electrical defects and as minor as mattress stains.
General manager Tony Caterine said the sting, to which television crews were invited, was an example of how the county is trying to intimidate smaller motels so they will sell the land to large developers.
"They're like anteaters trying to eat up all the little ants," Caterine said of megaresort developers. "They want this property."
Clark County Commissioner Dario Herrera, whose district includes the southern Strip, said the county has no plans to push the smaller motels out.
"The major projects on the south end of the Strip have been significantly beneficial to attracting tourists, but we have to respect those businesses that have been here a long time," Herrera said.
"We appreciate their contribution, and we'll do everything we can to make sure they are a valuable partner in the community."
Still, any visitor who passes by the strip of motels might ask: Why not sell?
Caterine said the Olympus still does good business. Afterall, who wouldn't mind spending $30 a night when the rates across the street at Mandalay Bay hover around $350 a night on weekends.
"Elvis Presley stayed in a place like this, how bad can it be?" Caterine said. "A buyer is trying to buy all these pieces, but he'll have no chance at this piece."
Woodrum sees the direction Strip development is moving and knows the ultimate fate of his property. Despite a fresh coat of red and white paint, the 40-year-old Klondike hardly competes with the sparkling gold Mandalay Bay resort just down the street.
Eventually, Woodrum will probably be forced to sell or convert his motel into a larger multiple-story hotel-casino. Woodrum said the decision to sell is not about the money, it's about enjoying his job.
"The county would like to see us go away," Woodrum said. "It's a little ragged and not what they'd like to see on Las Vegas Boulevard and I understand this. But there isn't one of us left that wouldn't fight until our last breath."
The decision to sell wasn't difficult for the owners of perhaps the most storied motel on the south end -- the Glass Pool Inn.
The 50-year-old inn made famous by its swimming pool with circular underwater windows has been featured in music videos, television shows and motion pictures such as "Casino" and "Leaving Las Vegas."
Aside from its appearance on the big screen, the Glass Pool Inn played a significant role in the development of the new era of the Las Vegas Strip. Former owner Allen Rosoff said the inn was once the Mirage Motel, but he sold the name to Steve Wynn in 1988.
But despite its rich history, Rosoff has never doubted his decision to sell his inn last August for $5 million.
"Enough was enough was enough," said Rosoff, who had owned the motel since 1953. "As the property gets older, it takes more and more to renovate it and bring it up. A lot of those guys are hanging onto their motels so they can get more money. I'm 65, how much money do I need?
"I'm ecstatic, and I'm sure those other guys will be ecstatic when they decide to sell."
Rosoff admits the value of the land that supports the rundown motels will increase once golf course developer Billy Walter's 18-hole championship course is built just south of Mandalay Bay.
"The south Strip is where it's at," said Rosoff, noting its proximity to McCarran International Airport, the planned high-speed train linking Las Vegas to Los Angeles and the new golf course.
He envisions a new megaresort across the street from Mandalay Bay and said it will happen with or without the consent of motel owners. If the property owners continue to ask for outrageous amounts, they might get burned.
"(Resort developers) might buy it or they might compromise or they might build around them," Rosoff said. "Steve Wynn and Kirk Kerkorian didn't succeed in building megaresorts because they're stupid."
The primary buyer on the south Strip has been Howard Bulloch of Prudential Americana Group Realtors. Bulloch not only acquired the Glass Pool Inn, but the Casa Malaga Motel and the Miami Beach Motel.
Bulloch said the individual properties are not large enough to build a new resort, but if and when enough are acquired the situation might change. Bulloch, the buyer Caterine was referring to, was reluctant to outline his plans.
"The Strip needs to grow to the south. There are vacant spots on the north, but we hope it grows to the south sooner," Bulloch said. "We're keeping our options open."
Adrienne Packer covers county government for the Sun. She can be reached at (702) 259-2310 or by e-mail at [email protected]