For years, an old blue-and-white cinder-block building sat abandoned on Ninth Street.
Heat and neglect have caused the paint to peel. In what became a pattern last winter, the windows had to be boarded up after squatters broke in and started accidental fires. The Las Vegas Fire Department repeatedly responded to mattress fires at the site. New boards had been placed over the windows six times in two years.
The building at 223 N. Ninth St., near Stewart Avenue in the heart of downtown Las Vegas, was orphaned. It became stuck in Clark County probate court after its owner, 1970s Las Vegas ventriloquist Lewis B. Warren, who dabbled in real estate, died in October 2012.
Warren, a Marine turned theater man, went by Lou Dupont onstage and used several names offstage. He performed with three handmade dummies in Las Vegas, Asia, Europe and Africa. Little is recorded about his life, but once he died, it became evident he had been interested in real estate.
Clark County Public Administrator John Cahill stepped in to help sort out the complications of Warren’s estate because there was no one else to do it.
“Lewis was very creative and private about his investments,” Cahill said. “Lewis may have been a little loose in meeting filing requirements for those names and (limited liability corporations).”
Cahill has spent $100,000 tracking down and clearing titles to 15 properties Warren owned.
Aavis Apartments at 223 N. Ninth St., built in 1970 and purchased by Warren in 1983, was one of them.
The fires haven’t helped. Each time the building burns, it has to be reboarded by a construction company, which creates a lien against the property. It could not be sold until all liens are cleared.
The Ninth Street building has collected dozens of liens over the years, including an active one from a construction company that boarded it up after a fire in December.
Even so, Cahill managed to find a buyer.
Mathieu Serre, an independent Las Vegas real estate agent from Tahiti, has renovated old buildings in the past, and 223 N. Ninth St. caught his eye.
“I looked at what the neighborhood is becoming, and we’d like to be part of it,” Serre said in June of the area, a mix of rundown buildings and freshly painted, renovated ones.
Serre has been in Las Vegas for 15 years. He graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas with a hotel administration degree and has been interested in downtown for some time.
As Serre worked to procure the property, the building caught fire — again — and significant damage was done on May 27. The roof partially collapsed, which later would create issues with the city of Las Vegas.
But Serre forged ahead, jumping through the hoops necessary to buy the building. He offered $300,000 for it, and the probate court approved it as a starting bid for the building’s public auction. In May, he went against four other interested parties and won with a $360,000 bid.
He walked away with the rights to the building and a big project on his hands.
“The way it’s happening, the way it’s developing, it was definitely a good choice,” Serre said.
The building site is fenced off. The boards are off the windows, and dumpsters sit below them, filled with fire-damaged contents. Soon, it will start its transformation into 28 studio apartment units aimed at the trendy downtown crowd.
The city of Las Vegas backed down on its insistence that Serre needs to raze the building and rebuild. After seeing that his plans involve architects redesigning the existing building, it was decided that he could proceed.
The city was excited at the thought of the downtown building’s renovation, Serre said.
The property falls within City Councilman Ricki Barlow’s ward. According to Barlow, the increase in downtown projects points to a high demand. More and more people — young people, especially, Barlow said — are subscribing to what he called “the downtown living lifestyle.”
“If anyone’s doing anything to a previously dilapidated building, I’m all for it,” Barlow said of Serre’s efforts.
Serre also tried to buy a neighboring property but was outbid and let it go. Just around the corner is another property being renovated by Serre’s own contractor, and the street is dotted with buildings that appear successfully restored.
223 N. Ninth St. is no longer an orphan. It has an invested owner who has a plan and high hopes. It is in progress and moving forward.
Contact reporter Annalise Little at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0391.