Build It and They Will Come...
But you'll be surprised who "They" are!
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
May 31, 2004
Las Vegas has always been a town of dreamers. This week, another dream
project bit the desert dust. "Neonopolis," an ill-conceived shopping mall
on Fremont Street gave up the fight after the city invested
$32 million for an underground parking structure.
Two term ex-Mayor Jan Jones left a legacy
of failed projects. In addition to squandering tax dollars on Neonopolis
and a canopy over Fremont St., two other dream undertakings she boosted
folded soon after their grand openings: Bob Snow's Main Street Station
Hotel and Casino went belly up in 1991, and the Race Rock Cafe located
across from Neonopolis closed in 2001.
Ex-Mayor Jones (LV SUN)
After she retired from politics, Jones went on
to become a highly paid executive with Harrah's Entertainment. She now
promotes competitive to Nevada casinos located on California roads leading
into the city she once represented. The California gamblers she now caters
to were once the bread and butter of our Downtown casinos.
Harrah's just bought the failed Horseshoe Club
on Fremont St. and is planning to take its "Horseshoe" brand name and famed
World Series of Poker to a venue outside the city limits leaving a skeleton
in their wake.
In the case of Bob Snow's project, a dangerous
precedent began. Snow, a Florida man with a dream, invested his fortune
in his new found home town, then went broke leaving the expensive spoils
to be picked up at bargain basement prices by people with ties to Jones.
Taxpayer dollars supplemented Snow's personal
investment of $47 million. When completed, the Main Street Station cost
in excess of $60 million. It opened and closed during Jones' first year
in office. Within months of its closing, Bank of America Arizona, a bank
in which Jones was a stockholder, picked up the spoils for $17 million
then immediately sold the project to the Boyd Group, a well connected local
casino consortium who now have turned the place around.
Since its opening in 2002 , there was never a
doubt that Neonopolis would fail. Downtown Las Vegas does not warrant a
high rise shopping mall with no space for a major retailer. However, the
structure is impressive and I'm sure it too will soon be converted into
another profitable tax-boosted casino by a politically connected local
group for dimes on the dollar. Meanwhile, the same casino companies complain
that they themselves are being overtaxed in Nevada at 6.75% when casinos
in Atlantic City pay 13% and those in Biloxi pay 21%!
The precedent has been set and the writing is
on the wall. Past and present Vegas city government officials may be involved
in enticing out of state investors to build elaborate, expensive structures,
some aided by huge infusions of taxpayer dollars for parking garages and
other nearby amenities. The projects are designed to fail. Then, if tax
dollars were involved, the city fathers threaten to repossess the
property. One way or the other, the property usually ends up being sold
to one of their buddies for a song.
Most recently, City of Las Vegas officials are
taking a slightly different tack. They now appear to be abusing their power
to grant -- then revoke -- privileged business licenses in an alleged scheme
to entice a new breed of sucker into a newly laid trap.
The city government in 2003 begrudgingly granted
a temporary liquor license to Ali and Hassan Davari,, the controversial
owners of a gentlemen's club in Texas. Not knowing they would only be granted
a temporary license, the brothers had invested over $30 million in a palatial
structure now called Treasures Gentleman's Club located within the city
Treasures (The $30 million spoils?)
Within weeks of its opening, City Code Enforcement
Officers were obediently crawling
all over the Davari's business finding all manner of fault from solicitation
for prostitution, to dance code violations. Meanwhile, the Crazy
Horse Too, a nearby competitor with political connections,
was -- with impunity -- reportedly ripping off customer's credit cards
and beating up or crippling those who refused to sign bogus charge slips.
Police and paramedics respond to
Crazy Horse (photo by Jim Barrier)
The far more heinous crimes reported at the Crazy
Horse went unabated
while Treasures was cited again and again for much lessor offenses. Now,
the Davaris are fighting the City to keep their license and stay open.
Meanwhile the vultures are circling overhead as was the case when Mr. Snow's
project entered troubled waters years ago.
Rumor has it that the City is in cahoots with
another topless bar owner who wants to pick up Treasures for a song. All
that's needed now is a little more help from City Hall, and that's being
dished out in spades by City Attorney Brad Jerbic who works at the pleasure
of the Mayor who has close ties to the owners of the Crazy Horse Too.
Guess who's rumored to be the lucky recipient
of the Treasures spoils in the event their liquor license is revoked?
But this is not the first time Sin City public
officials have been accused of aiding and abetting Rick Rizzolo, the purported
owner of the Crazy Horse Too. Back in 1998, Rizzolo wanted to expand his
bar. A nifty 6,000 square foot space sat right next door, but unfortunately
it was occupied by an adult book store called LA
Hot. And there were other problems like a severe lack of on site parking,
and a pesky city code that prohibited sexually oriented businesses from
being within 1,000 feet of each other. No problem for Rizzolo. City Hall
to the rescue!
In order to get rid of the sexually oriented book
store and replace it with a another sexually oriented business, someone
in city government needed to go on a psudo-crusade against porn.
Ex-cop-cum-City Councilman Mike
McDonald rode to the rescue. McDonald had for years been closely linked
to Rizzolo including the time he was on the Vegas police force. He was
so close that he regularly abstained on matters Rizzolo brought before
the Council. Nonetheless, it was McDonald who suddenly became righteously
indignant over adult businesses in his ward, especially LA Hot. He proclaimed
that the adult book store was just too immoral to remain in business. Jan
Jones joined him in his crusade without disclosing her own personal ties
(McDonald was defeated in 2003 by a candidate
who sent mailers exposing his connections to Rizzolo, et. al. McDonald
is now employed at another topless bar)
2003 political mailer approved and paid for by Janet Moncrief
To no one's surprise, there soon was a vacant
6,000 square foot storefront sitting right next door to the Crazy Horse.
Then by coincidence -- and without fanfare -- the Crazy Horse increased
its girth by exactly 6,000 square feet, but with a notable caveat emptor.
It seemed that Mr. Rizzolo felt exempt from zoning
laws and other annoyances such as having to pull building permits,
get a fire inspection, conduct a parking and traffic study, or apply for
a Certificate of Occupancy -- so he just skipped the rudimentaries and
opened the space for business.
After he opened the addition and before any permits were issued, the
sexy voice on the club's answering machine proclaimed: "Welcome to the
all new, bigger and better than ever Crazy Horse Too." In the meantime,
neighboring business and apartment house owners began seeing their limited
parking spaces filled with bar customers. One neighbor even set up concrete
barriers to keep bar patron's cars off his commercial property.
One of the biggest juice
jobs in Sin City's history had just gone down -- and few knew about
it! Neighboring business owners hired an attorney to argue
that Rizzolo was allowed to open his expansion without the mandatory parking
and traffic studies required of all other business owners.
I authored the first newspaper story on the subject,
and the shit hit the fan! After the scheme was exposed, Rizzolo told the
Journal, "It's really all my risk involved," adding he likely will
sue if the City of Las Vegas denies him the ability to keep his secret
A special meeting of the City Council was called
for February 8, 1999. At the meeting Jones was so angered by my exposing
the scam that she blamed me personally for fanning the flames. The 2/9/99
Vegas Review Journal reported:
said controversy about expansion was fanned by former City Councilman Steve
Miller, a relentless foe of the mayor's. During the meeting, she produced
a recent issue of the Las Vegas Tribune, which featured a front page story
penned by Miller on the Crazy Horse Too expansion. 'For ... Mr. Miller
to use this for political purposes is inappropriate,' Jones said," as
she waved my article in the air for all to see.
The Review Journal story continued: "Chuck
Gardner, an attorney representing an expansion opponent, said Rizzolo
'put the crazy before the horse' when he decided to complete the addition
without the variance, risking an $800,000 investment if the council voted
against the variance."
The Mayor and Council ignored the pleadings of Gardner, a former Deputy
Nevada Attorney General, who was tersely warned by Jones not to say anything
about parking or she would call him out of order.
Soon after the Council meeting, Jones obediently
issued all the permits after-the-fact apparently not caring that the expansion
had been open and illegally operating for several weeks. As for parking?
No problem. Jones simply ignored the subject as did the subservient City
Fire Department when faced with protests over their failing to recalculate
the bar's fire
capacity to determine additional parking needs.
Jones obviously couldn't care less what people
thought, and why should she? There were only three months remaining in
her term, she had fulfilled her pay backs, and a lucrative job awaited
her after politics. Furthermore, she knew her successor would continue
coddling Mr. Rizzolo and his associates.
That was 1999. Today, its no surprise to see the
politically spoiled Crazy Horse circling vulture-like over the Davari's
palace. Mike McDonald and Jan Jones are history, but a new Rizzolo lackey
replaced them on the City Council in the form of mob attorney-cum-Mayor
Goodman made his fortune representing Rizzolo's
friends in their time of need, so the writing's on the wall. With Goodman's
likely City Hall help, Rizzolo, just like the Boyd Group in 1991, may be
about to pick up two dreamer's spoils for dimes on the dollar -- possibly
with enough left over to dole out a few cash
bonuses to several carefully selected local attorneys.
To add fuel to the speculation fire, a reliable
source reported that he heard Rick's dad, Bart Rizzolo, last week tell
several people, "We're going to get out of this shitty building soon."
Calls for confirmation were not returned.
But this time, if my speculation is correct, there
may be a catch. Though the "Build It and They Will Come" scheme
may have worked in the past, now the FBI
and IRS are circling over their own prey a few blocks north of Treasures.
Rizzolo and his lackeys at City Hall might not
realize it yet, but their vulture-like Crazy Horse may be about to crash
from orbit at the hands of the feds, bringing with it a slew of crooked
politicians and a few local law enforcement types who have been bingeing
at the Horse's trough.
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