The first step toward land seizures?


The Charleston Antique Mall, at Charleston Boulevard and Interstate 15, closed April 30. It was not voluntary. The state Department of Transportation deployed its powers of eminent domain to seize and destroy the building, originally the local 7-Up bottling plant, then for a time the Red Rooster antique mall. The action makes room for Project Neon - the widening of another stretch of I-15.

Business owners Cal and Michelle Tully found a new location for their antique mall: the former Peter Piper Pizza premises next door to Arizona Charlie's, at 560 S. Decatur Blvd.

The brunette is one of about 40 independent vendors who rent space in the mall. The moving men retained by NDOT stacked her vintage clothes and books - 140 boxes in all - at the new location on June 19. They made quite a pile.

Vendors worked mornings, evenings and weekends, building and painting as the Tullys and their contractors dealt with city inspection after inspection - lighting, electrical, you name it - leading up to a July 1 soft opening.

Meanwhile, since June 26 the city of Las Vegas has been running legal ads in the Review-Journal, announcing a July 25 public hearing - 1 p.m. at the new City Hall, 495 S. Main St. - to create a "second redevelopment area" for the purpose of eliminating "small and irregular lots" facilitating the "assembly of land into parcels suitable for modern, integrated development."

Guess what? The building next to Arizona Charlie's, where the Tullys and their vendors have just plowed in hundreds of thousands of dollars for new paint, new lighting, new carpets, new signage - where they've just built, in essence, a brand new antique mall? It's included.

Virtually all the commercial parcels along Charleston Boulevard from I-15 west to Rainbow Boulevard, a full five miles, are included. Two miles of Decatur Boulevard, from Sahara Avenue north to Meadows Lane (just shy of U.S. Highway 95) are included. So are all the commercial parcels along Sahara from I-15 west to Decatur, as well as the Meadows mall.

In the past, the city has used its powers of eminent domain to condemn and tear down buildings and turn over the land to more favored developers, primarily downtown, in the area around Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard, where their kleptocrat efforts have led to such triumphs as Neonopolis - re-dubbed variously NeoFlopolis or NeoNecropolis - where the city still services the debt on a rarely used underground parking garage.

Now, according to the city's proposed map, the "blighted" and "deficient" properties in need of redevelopment include the Las Vegas Valley Water District headquarters at Charleston and Valley View Boulevard, the entire Wal-Mart shopping center, with its busy fast-food outliers at Charleston and Decatur, Arizona Charlie's and the aforementioned Meadows Mall.

"We moved on June 19, and they announce they want to seize our new building on the 26th?" the brunette asks. "When I first heard this I didn't know whether to cry or vomit."

Both a City Council member and City Manager Betsy Fretwell insist the city has no current plans to use eminent domain to seize properties in this proposed new "Redevelopment Area 2." Instead, you'll hear a lot of happy talk about how they'll reimburse property owners half their cost if they paint their buildings a pretty new color or put out some potted plants.

The Pappas family heard the same line about how they'd be able to "participate" in the redevelopment of their property, at Fremont and Las Vegas Boulevard. Downtown property owners submitted plans to fix up their properties, including flowers in pots. The City Council laughed at their naive proposals and sent them notices that their properties would be torn down.

Harry Pappas remembers then-Mayor Jan Jones telling his mother at a hearing, "Mrs. Pappas, you've had your property long enough. It's time to give it up."

The city told Carol Pappas' tenants to get out, thus reducing her rental income to zero, hoping to squeeze her into accepting a dime-on-the-dollar offer. (The city offered $450,000 for a city block zoned for "unlimited gaming" - a potential casino site at the heart of downtown. After 11 years in court, the Pappas family settled for $4.5 million.)

Back in 1993, Carol Pappas received a notice telling her she had 30 days to hire a lawyer to fight the seizure. But the city had done a clever thing. They'd hidden at the back of the sheaf of papers a notice that an emergency had been declared, eliminating that 30-day period. It wasn't 30 days, but less than two weeks later that the wrecking ball showed up and began knocking down the Pappas block. This newspaper ran a photo of Carol Pappas, watching the wrecking ball, on the front page.

On the Pappas property now stands a big white parking garage, which stood mostly empty for years, till the current owners started leasing out spaces to downtown banks and the courthouse for juror parking. What was the big "emergency" to erect an empty parking garage, Jan Jones? Unless it was to stop anyone from putting up a competing casino there, as Bob Snow had tried to do a few years previous, only to be told by some of those same downtown casino barons that he couldn't because that property "wasn't blighted."

Any private developer who wants to assemble some smaller parcels for "a more appropriate use" along Charleston or Decatur or Sahara is free to do so, today, with cash. How does the city propose to facilitate that process, short of the threat of eminent domain - which our kleptocrat U.S. Supreme Court, in Kelo vs. New London, has now held to be OK so long as the new owner promises to pay more taxes?

When I heard Carol Pappas was dying, I took the brunette to meet her and share her Greek cooking, one last time. Her Bible now rests beside my bed. Those at City Hall laugh at the mention of her name. They figure everyone's forgotten. Have we?

What favored developer is even now drooling over the prospect of setting up the Decatur Boulevard Experience LLC?

Has redevelopment really worked out so well downtown? Or could it be - as I've been told - that after 26 years, "redevelopment" has been such a disaster that current downtown property tax revenues are no longer sufficient to keep all the redevelopment agency pencil pushers in jobs, that there's talk of having to shift $3 million from the city general fund to keep them all employed next year? Might that be a reason to expand the redevelopment area and its tax bite?

Ms. Fretwell insists tax revenues from the old and new redevelopment areas "wouldn't be commingled."

So what are they up to?

Vin Suprynowicz is author of the novel "The Black Arrow" and "The Ballad of Carl Drega." See www.vinsuprynowicz.com.

 

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