Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2006 | 6:57 a.m.
Station Casinos' latest development plans are returning full circle to its origins, and raising the hackles of residents far from the tony neighborhoods of Summerlin and Rhodes Ranch, where casino projects also have raised ire.
The company is quietly releasing plans to build luxury condos and retail stores in a 40-year-old working-class neighborhood near Palace Station, the company's birthplace across Interstate 15 from the Strip.
Residents of Richfield Village have long suspected something was up in their neighborhood, what with the company buying properties in their midst, and now they're in a bigger huff.
In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Friday, Station said it plans to develop a mixed-use residential, retail and entertainment project on all or part of 52 acres the company has assembled with joint venture partner FBLV Holding Co. LLC. The land is on Rancho Drive between Teddy Avenue and Desert Inn Road.
Early last year Station began purchasing at least 40 homes in Richfield Village surrounding Rex Bell Elementary School. The previous year New York real estate developer Fisher Brothers purchased the site of the former Scandia Family Fun Center fronting Rancho Drive along I-15 and some adjacent commercial parcels.
According to the SEC filing, Station intends to build the project in partnership with Fisher Brothers, a developer of office buildings in New York City that also owns more than two dozen hotels nationwide.
It's not known how far west into the residential area the project would encroach. In the SEC filing, the company said it hadn't yet determined the timing, cost and scope of the project.
A Station spokeswoman wouldn't elaborate on the plans Tuesday.
Real estate experts say the area of Sahara Avenue near I-15, where condominiums are replacing older office buildings, is ripe for redevelopment. Like many casino operators around town contemplating higher-density buildings on their properties, Station is interested in maximizing the value of its land with luxurious add-ons such as condos.
The project could resemble The District at Green Valley Ranch - one of the first mixed-use developments in the Las Vegas Valley to combine condos with retail stores. The District sits on 170 acres owned by The Greenspun Corporation, whose owners also own the Las Vegas Sun and are partners in Station's adjacent Green Valley Ranch Station.
Residents have complained to the Las Vegas City Council in recent months about pressure tactics used by real estate agents hired by Station to acquire homes in the neighborhood. Some residents told the Sun that they were approached by agents and told to sell for the chance to get the highest available price on their homes and that the neighborhood would soon become a slum as neighbors sold their homes and moved away.
Station has since dismissed the offending agents and worked on its public relations efforts in the community. But the company has remained tight-lipped about its plans, causing anxiety among residents, who are "closely knit and tenacious" about protecting their neighborhood, City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian said.
"I wish they would be more upfront, but that's how business works," said Tarkanian, whose district encompasses the neighborhood. "I think it's not so much about leaving residents in the dark as disclosing their plans to competitors."
In frequent discussions with the councilwoman about the plans, the company hasn't revealed further details about the project or when it could be built, she said.
To appease residents, the company has discussed the possibility of developing a new elementary school and community center, she added.
"If they are going in there and buying houses and if this is an inevitable thing, I think they should work with the community," she said. "This is a situation that's happening across the country. Station has an opportunity to become a model for other developers."
Some residents say they have soured on Station, which didn't identify itself as the buyer of the homes until months after many residents had sold.
For the past few months, Station officials have attended homeowners association meetings to discuss homes they had purchased. Officials haven't revealed their development plans, saying nothing has been finalized.
In recent months, residents have complained that vacated homes Station purchased and hasn't yet rented have attracted burglars and vandals, blighting the neighborhood.
"I watched my home being built, I raised my children here and I planned on dying here," said 43-year resident Nada Patterson. "They went about this in an underhanded way and they still really haven't come clean about what their plans are. I don't think it's right that they can dismantle a whole neighborhood."
Katherine Martin, a member of the Richfield Neighborhood Association, said Station hasn't offered residents enough money to buy comparable homes elsewhere.
"We've advised people not to sell because it's a poor market at this time and they can't replace what they have," Martin said. More recently, she said, Station hasn't appeared eager to buy up the neighborhood's remaining homes, creating problems for residents who want to move.
"Who wants to buy into a neighborhood that's going to disappear?" she said.