Las Vegas Sun

March 20, 2019

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The Boulevard of broken dreams

The repeated burglaries that left James Mouse without a television, hot plate and underwear were not enough to make him consider moving from his single-room home at the Boulevard hotel.

Nor was the bright red sign city workers stuck to his window telling him his roughly 12-by-12-foot room in the decrepit three-story building was unfit to live in. The bottom half of the sign had been largely shredded in an aborted attempt to remove it.

"They were banging on everyone's door and telling me to leave," he said, sipping from a 40-ounce beer. "I tried to take it (the sticker on his window) down, but it says it's a misdemeanor (to remove it.)"

Mouse, 37, was one of a handful of people remaining at the hotel, at 525 Las Vegas Boulevard South. His was one of the 40 rooms, rented by the week, that were ordered closed Thursday after a team of Las Vegas inspectors found numerous building code violations on the property.

A sign hanging from a balcony described the rooms as "newly remodeled," although piles of leftover ceramic tiles used to refinish the floors within the rooms were among the only visible evidence of newly completed work on the property.

Orlando Sanchez, director of Las Vegas Neighborhood Services, the department that oversaw the inspection, said some of the rooms were without heat and lacked hot water. A number of broken smoke detectors also put residents' safety at risk, he said.

The property is owned by the GP Properties LLC, a firm founded last summer by attorneys Louis Palazzo and Ross Goodman, son of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman. It sits on valuable downtown real estate ripe for development.

Ross Goodman said he met with building inspectors for about 15 minutes Monday afternoon to discuss boarding up the building and preparing it for demolition.

Speaking by teleconference with Ross Goodman after that meeting, Louis Palazzo said the building will be demolished in the next 60 to 90 days to make way for a mixed-use, high-rise project.

Mayor Goodman said he had not spoken to any city agency about the project and that no votes regarding the hotel had come before the city council. The property sits next to a vacant building the business partners are trying to acquire from Christine Von Sturm, an 86-year-old Las Vegas woman. They are currently in litigation over an unsuccessful transaction for the building.

Palazzo said most of the rooms described by city inspectors were being prepared for renovation and had not been inhabited since they acquired the property.

"It is completely ludicrous to suggest that there were people residing in rooms without hot water or, in some cases it was suggested, without toilets," Palazzo said. "Those were not the living conditions that these folks were living under."

Among changes made in the roughly six months since Ross Goodman and Palazzo bought the hotel were new flooring, new bathroom fixtures, new paint, refrigerators and furniture, he said. All told, the renovations cost more than $50,000.

Mouse's room had what looked to be a newer tile floor and a fresh coat of paint, although he pointed to a broken smoke detector that he said inspectors told him was the reason they "tagged" his room.

The building has been slated for demolition since GP acquired it, but the city's action has prompted them to "move up" their timeline for the demolition, Palazzo said.

"We knew at some point, to put this property to the highest and best use, that the building would have to be demolished," he said. "Unfortunately, these people will be displaced sooner rather than later. We're disappointed that these people will lose their homes, but unfortunately the city saw fit to make that determination ... It's moved up our timeline."

It will be the latest in a series of other redevelopment projects near downtown.

A few blocks away from the Boulevard hotel, on the former site of the Golden Inn motel, across the street from the Fremont Street Experience, a billboard advertises reservations for the Streamline Tower, a planned 21-story condominium tower where 251 units are expected to sell for between $400,000 and $900,000 each.

That parcel was bought in July by Vegas Valley Properties, which is doing business as Streamline Tower, LLC.

Linda Lera-Randle El, director of Straight from the Streets and a long-time advocate for the homeless, said she had previously referred homeless people to the Boulevard hotel but that she hadn't since Ross Goodman and Palazzo's company bought it in August.

Lera-Randle El, a frequent critic of the mayor and of what she perceives as unfair policies toward the homeless, said she last visited the property on Thursday to visit a long-term client who still lived there.

"I've seen (homeless) encampments in better condition than that," she said.

Gina Olivares, a spokeswoman for Clark County Social Service, said the agency has not issued rental assistance to anyone living at the Boulevard hotel since October 2002.

Clark County Social Service does not inspect the properties where its clients live, but as a "payment source" simply provides them with a reference list of locations that have accepted the rental assistance paid to the tenants, who then use the money -- $319.17 a month for a single person -- to pay their own rent, Olivares said.

She did not know whether the Boulevard was still on that list.

Mouse, who said he had not qualified for rental assistance, said he was paying $600 a month for the small room from which a television and hotplate, the only way he had to prepare food, had been stolen last week. The burglars even rifled through his dresser drawers, making off with his underwear, he said.

Now, in that same dresser drawer was a single-sheet notification of the burglary with a catalogued event number from Metro Police.

Even after managers failed to replace the stolen TV, fix a telephone connection or provide a small refrigerator as promised, Mouse said he did not complain.

It's still better than moving, although a social worker assigned to Mouse is trying to convince him to move to the nearby Beverly Palms hotel on Sixth Street, he said.

"There ain't nothing wrong with my room," he said, although a padlock secured to the outside of his door was the only protection after the deadbolt broke.

While surprising to those who have not lived on the streets, Mouse's comments are not unusual, Lera-Randle El said.

Residents like Mouse, who himself has lived on the streets, rarely complain about conditions like those at the Boulevard, she said.

"The majority of people are stuck and a lot of them are not going to complain out of fear," Lera-Randle El said. "They're in a Catch-22. They'll almost settle for anything."

Another Boulevard resident, a 59-year-old man who has lived there for 12 years, said the news of the closure was "disturbing" but that rumors the building's days were numbered had been swirling in recent months.

The slender man, who wheeled a blue mountain bike to his third-floor unit, said he did not fault the city workers who pointed out the code violations. His apartment was not tagged, he said.

"It has potential," the man, who would not give his name, said of his modest home. "Please save it. We're not ready for a full-on Manhattan here yet."

The bicyclist is the kind of resident Ross Goodman said were among the most loyal to the property. Of those residents, few he and Palazzo had spoken to had voiced complaints, Ross Goodman said.

"There have been no complaints reported by tenants to support any of those assertions," made by city Neighborhood Services, he said. "No tenant ever reported that they had no heat or hot water."

But the tough decisions the Boulevard residents will likely soon face is indicative of a larger problem in the Las Vegas Valley, which is quickly running out of affordable low-income housing, Lera-Randle El said. It's a problem she said will get worse if low-cost housing like the Boulevard is left to decay before being replaced by higher-end properties.

"We're really in a dire straits for housing," she said. "Everyday I'm trying to place people into little holes in the wall just to get them off the streets. ... But just because something has a roof over it and a few walls to hide its dirty little secrets doesn't make it right."