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One year later, no progress on Buddhist temple near Las Vegas Strip

Updated July 26, 2019 - 3:33 pm

Las Vegas’ wheeler-dealer, boom-and-bust real estate market is almost never boring. But even by Vegas standards, a sale that closed a year ago this week was especially head-turning.

The World Buddhism Association Headquarters bought 12.2 acres of mostly vacant property just east of the Strip on July 24, 2018, for $17.5 million. Its goal was to build a Buddhist temple — a “deeply ironic” project, as one observer said at the time, given the proximity to Las Vegas’ alcohol-soaked, gambling-packed tourist scene.

The Southern California religious group paid cash for the property, next to the SLS Las Vegas, according to a broker on the deal. But it had “very limited funds,” and there was “no possibility of quickly beginning” construction, its lawyer said at the time.

A year later, the organization has not shown any progress toward building the temple. No project plans had been filed with Clark County as of this week, and there were no signs of construction at the property.

The group is also embroiled in a lawsuit it filed in October against Las Vegas Monorail Co., which operates a station at its property, and SLS’ ownership.

The World Buddhism Association Headquarters claimed in the lawsuit, filed in Clark County District Court, that it is “not obligated to perform any” upkeep or other work on connection areas to the Monorail station, or “incur any financial costs” of that work.

The elevated station is linked to the SLS by a pedestrian bridge over Paradise Road.

Las Vegas Monorail said in court papers in November that the Buddhist group’s “primary apprehension” about the maintenance obligation — outlined in a nearly 20-year-old easement — was the group “would be assuming financial responsibility” for an upcoming project to replace the station’s escalator and elevator system, an expected $1 million-plus endeavor.

SLS’ ownership also said in court papers in November that despite the religious organization’s “rhetoric about how unfair it is to pay for the maintenance of these monorail improvements,” the lawsuit failed to provide “a single legal” principle that would let the group “avoid its maintenance responsibility.”

Las Vegas Monorail spokeswoman Ingrid Reisman said the company is “not able to comment at this time” on the case, citing the ongoing litigation.

SLS spokesman Chris Abraham said, “We do not comment on pending litigation.”

Steve Meyers, who as of last year was an attorney for the World Buddhism Association Headquarters, did not provide any project updates. The organization’s attorneys involved in the lawsuit did not respond to requests for comment this week.

Its purchase wasn’t the first time a seemingly random group bought property near Las Vegas Boulevard, and it wouldn’t even be unique to have organized religion near the casinos. Two Catholic churches, one built in the 1960s and the other in the 1990s, are already just off the Strip.

But most people who have bought vacant or tear-down real estate around the resort corridor typically want to build a flashy hotel, high-rise condos or retail — not a house of worship.

Still, if the temple isn’t built, the Buddhist group will be only the latest in an ever-growing list of investors who have unveiled project plans in Las Vegas and never followed through.

Among them: The World Wrestling Federation, of all groups, bought the bankrupt Debbie Reynolds hotel-casino near the Strip in 1998 and laid out plans to demolish it and build a 35-story wrestling-themed casino.

Instead, it sold the property a few years later.

Contact Eli Segall at esegall@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0342. Follow @eli_segall on Twitter.

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