Laughlin’s abandoned Emerald River resort remains an eyesore

LAUGHLIN — With the Colorado River steps from her house, and with panoramic views of mountain-framed desert, Susan Martinolich can soak up a serene landscape from her back patio.

There’s so much beauty outside, she says, she isn’t bothered much by the abandoned, rust-streaked, concrete towers standing right across the water in Laughlin — leftovers of the failed Emerald River resort.

“It just blends into the landscape,” she says.

Gaylor Cope also lives along the river in Bullhead City, Arizona, not far from Martinolich, and says residents were “absolutely ecstatic” when the waterfront resort got started in the 1980s. Now, more than 25 years after it went bust, he says people have looked at the partially built project for so long that they almost “don’t notice it anymore.”

“We’ve just learned to live with it,” he says.

In Las Vegas, residents have dealt with a towering eyesore on the Strip since 2009, the unfinished Fontainebleau. But 100 miles southeast of Las Vegas, residents of Laughlin and neighboring Bullhead City have dealt with their own abandoned megaresort — also a failed relic of a past boom period — for much, much longer.

“We’re all used to it,” says Marie Santa-La Fond of Bullhead City, who lives right across the river from the project. “But nobody likes it being there. It’s an eyesore.”


Her family even has a nickname for it, coined by her granddaughter: “the broken building.”

Planned during a roaring growth spurt in Laughlin, Emerald River was supposed to be the most expensive casino-resort in Nevada for its time, with four hotels, a golf course and a 1 million-square-foot shopping mall, one report said — all told, an $800 million tab in 1988, or more than $1.6 billion today.

But the project quickly derailed, and after bankruptcies, litigation and fizzled sales efforts, the site today has little more than two unfinished, adjacent towers — shaped like an upside-down “L” — sprouting rebar, as well as a closed, dirt-covered golf course.

Nearby residents don’t know who owns the property, and not everyone in Las Vegas has heard of the post-apocalyptic-looking project.

“There’s a tower down there?” said Las Vegas real estate broker Michael Parks of CBRE Group’s global gaming group.

Some people call it “the birdcage,” Laughlin Town Manager Brian Paulson said — the 14- and 7½-story buildings are see-through, due to a lack of walls – and rumors have swirled about the property for years. People have heard the buildings are being sold, imploded, condemned, even eyed for purchase by Donald Trump.

“I don’t believe any of it,” says one Bullhead City resident. “Nothing’s ever happened.”

In many ways, Emerald River’s saga is not unique to Southern Nevada’s anything-goes real estate market: developers launched a supersized project, funding dried up, court cases ensued and the property sat idle.

Las Vegas, a poster child for America’s real estate boom and bust, had plenty of abandoned, partially built projects after the economy crashed last decade. But several of those mothballed projects were completed in the past few years, often after investors bought them for cents on the dollar.

Like the Fontainebleau, however, Emerald River is still in limbo. Arkansas lawyer Kenneth Mourton lives part-time in Laughlin, about a mile from Emerald River, and says the abandoned resort doesn’t bother him, though “it’s probably an eyesore for the community.”

“I think most of us just get used to it,” he said. “It’s been there forever.”



An unincorporated town of 7,300, Laughlin has a string of casinos along the banks of the Colorado a few miles from Emerald River. Many visitors are retirees who drive here in RVs; the town’s tourism industry is a fraction of the size of Las Vegas’, and a new resort hasn’t been built in the main corridor, Casino Drive, in more than 20 years.

The 1980s was a different story.

“To call this a boom town is an outrageous understatement,” the Los Angeles Times reported in 1985.

According to the report, Laughlin had grown the past two years from 450 hotel rooms and upward of 2,000 employees to 1,600 rooms and 6,000 employees. The population was rising fast, gambling revenue was soaring and more growth was on the way.

One proposed project was bigger than the rest.

In 1988, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported that Southern Nevada developer John Midby announced plans for an $800 million resort called Emerald River. Calling it “the most expensive hotel-casino project in Nevada,” the newspaper said the 400-acre project would be built in phases over the next 10 years and include 6,000 hotel rooms, a 1 million-square-foot mall and Laughlin’s first golf course.

Midby, who died last year at age 73, was using so-called junk bonds, or high-interest loans, to help finance the development. But the junk-bond market collapsed around 1990, and Midby’s project went bankrupt not long after he broke ground.

According to a project timeline provided by Jim Shaw, representative for the site’s current ownership, the golf course opened in 1991 but construction of Emerald River’s first hotel-casino tower stopped in 1990 due to the bankruptcy.

Midby Cos. CEO Eric Midby did not respond to requests for comment.

According to a 1991 report by the Arizona Republic, Emerald River lost its financing just six months into its first phase. And in summer 1991, the Los Angeles Times Magazine called the hotel tower “nothing more than a depressing shell.”


Former stock brokerage PaineWebber took ownership of the site in 1993, but in 2001, Las Vegas developer Nissim “Nick” Azouz acquired the property.

He had a rocky time with it.

In summer 2005, around the time the golf course closed, he reached a deal to sell the entire Emerald River site but the buyer backed out, according to Shaw’s timeline.

Azouz sold a 7.6-acre portion of his waterfront holdings in 2006 for almost $4 million, property records show. He also reached a deal that year to sell about 17 acres, including the abandoned buildings, for $10.14 million. But the sale didn’t close, and Azouz and the buyers tangled in court.

He then reached a deal in 2007 to sell that parcel for $10.5 million. But the buyer filed for bankruptcy protection the day before the sale’s closing deadline, according to court filings.

Shaw told the Review-Journal that Azouz is no longer part of the property’s ownership. He confirmed the “primary people” now are investors Jacob Tal and Yizhaq Levy, but declined to give other details on the group.

In a phone interview, Azouz said he was bought out in January and that he didn’t build anything at Emerald River, adding he put “everything on hold” when the economy soured.

He also said the golf course closed because the operators’ lease expired and they wanted his group to spend $5 million on upgrades before they renewed. But, he says, that “didn’t make sense for us” because he wanted to build homes on the course anyway.

According to Shaw, the Emerald River buildings are “structurally sound” and have not been condemned. Paulson, the town manager, also dismissed the rumor that the site had been condemned.

As Azouz sees it, his former waterfront property is a “beautiful” site, though he doesn’t expect anything to get built soon.

“The market is not there,” he said.


It’s highly unlikely that someone today would build a project in Laughlin as big and expensive as Emerald River. The town “has not rebounded” from the recession as well as Las Vegas, Paulson says, and hotel rooms often sit empty.

Laughlin’s hotel occupancy rate through October was 65 percent, compared with almost 80 percent in Mesquite and about 92 percent on the Las Vegas Strip, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Across the river in Bullhead City, people have learned to live with the hulking, unsightly neighbor – and they’re not letting it ruin their waterfront lifestyle.

Martinolich has lived on Riverfront Drive for almost 20 years. The “skeleton” across the water “kind of becomes invisible” after a while, she says, and living along the Colorado is the nicest place in town.

“Once you’re on the river,” she said, “you don’t want to be anywhere else.”

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

Local Videos
Butterflies At The Springs Preserve
The butterfly habitat is now open at the Springs Preserve. Learn about butterflies and take in the peaceful surroundings. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
The Bellagio Conservatory's spring display has a Japanese theme
The Bellagio's conservatory is hosting around 65,000 flowers, to form a Japanese theme this spring. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bonnie Springs closes (Caroline Brehman/Kimber Laux)
Bonnie Springs Ranch near Las Vegas officially closed its gates Sunday, March 17, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Honoring a fallen North Las Vegas Police officer at his namesake school
The 20th Annual Raul P. Elizondo Honor Day celebrates the fallen North Las Vegas Police officer's legacy at his namesake school. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Windy day in Las Vegas Valley
The Review-Journal's camera on the under-construction Las Vegas Stadium the was buffered by high winds on Wednesday, March 14, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
March gloom falls on Las Vegas
After a rainy overnight, gloomy skies hover over Las Vegas Tuesday morning. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
John Katsilometes gets his head shaved at St. Baldrick's
Las Vegas Review-Journal man-about-town columnist John Katsilometes gets his head shaved by former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman during St. Baldrick's Foundation shave-a-thon on the Brooklyn Bridge at New York-New York in Las Vegas Friday, March 8, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The Blue Angels take flight over Las Vegas Strip
The Blue Angels’ U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron flew their signature Delta formation over a part of the Las Vegas Strip, McCarran International Airport and east Las Vegas and were scheduled to fly over Hoover Dam. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Gross World Records
A group of about 20 children gathered around a TV at Sahara West Library on Feb. 27 for a history lesson on the most disgusting world records.
Graduation for Renewing HOPE program
The Renewing HOPE program graduation for homeless who spend nine months in Catholic Charities program. Graduates are preparing to enter the workforce. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Car crashes into Starbucks near Las Vegas Strip
Lt. William Matchko of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police gives details about a car crashing into a Starbucks at Sahara Avenue and Paradise Road, near the Las Vegas Strip, on Friday, March 1, 2019. (Jessica Terrones/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Car crashed into PT’s Gold
A 60-year-old man who police believe was impaired drove into a PT’s Gold at Silverado Ranch and Decatur boulevards Thursday night, Metropolitan Police Department Lt. William Matchko said. The driver was hospitalized and is expected to survive. A man inside the bar was hit by debris but drove himself to the hospital, Matchko said. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Driver crashes vehicle into PT’s tavern in south Las Vegas (part 1)
A driver suspected of impairment crashed a vehicle into the wall of a PT’s Gold tavern, at 4880 W. Silverado Ranch Blvd., in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Driver crashes vehicle into PT’s tavern in south Las Vegas (pullout)
A driver suspected of impairment crashed a vehicle into the wall of a PT’s Gold tavern, at 4880 W. Silverado Ranch Blvd., in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Kids Read Books To Dogs At The Animal Foundation In Las Vegas
Kids from local Las Vegas elementary schools took part, Thursday, in a program at the Animal Foundation, where they read books to dogs. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Pioneer Trail highlights historic locations in West Las Vegas
The Pioneer Trail, a 16-site route of historically significant locations in Las Vegas, starts at the Springs Preserve and snakes east until it reaches above the brim of downtown. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutefsya
Vegas Warm Weather Hits Las Vegas Valley
Between Feb. 20-21, parts of the Las Vegas Valley were hit with 7.5" of snow. Less than a week later, it was sunny with temperatures in the 70s. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dr. S. Jay Hazan, a World War II veteran, talks about his arrest at the VA Hospital
Dr. S. Jay Hazan, a World War II Army veteran, was arrested in November after he caused a ruckus at the VA Hospital in North Las Vegas and stole his driver's car keys. He was arraigned on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, and the charges will be dropped after 60 days. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Claytee White talks about Black History Month
An interview with Claytee White, director of the Oral History Research Center at UNLV. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Reflecting on the Moulin Rouge and a segregated Vegas
Former employees of the Moulin Rouge, the first integrated hotel-casino in Nevada, talk about what it was like in the brief six months the casino was open. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas home prices
Home prices rose in every ZIP code in the Las Vegas Valley in 2018 for the second year in a row, according to SalesTraq. Prices grew fastest in older, more centrally located areas. But prices were highest in the suburbs. The top three ZIP codes for price growth were 89119 (29.8%), 89146 (25%) and 89030 (24.6%). The top three ZIP codes for median sales prices were 89138 ($464,500), 89135 ($420,500) and 89052 ($370,000).
Wagonwheel Drive overpass reopens after ice closure
Overpass at Wagonwheel Drive reopens after ice on the onramp caused the ramp to be shut down, Feb. 22, 2019. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Keeping warm at the city of Las Vegas’ homeless courtyard
With help from the city of Las Vegas, a Salvation Army shelter stays open during the day Thursday and Friday, offering a safe place for the homeless to find respite from freezing temperatures and snow. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sloppy, Slushy Road Conditions Lead to Slow Traffic
Traffic slowed to a crawl on Jones are near Russell as conditions worsened Thursday. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Winter storm blankets west side of Las Vegas Valley
On Wednesday evening through early Thursday a winter storm dumped more than 7 1/2 inches of snow on some parts of the Las Vegas Valley. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas snow day for children
Las Vegas kids play in the snow that fell on Feb. 21, 2019. (Belinda Englman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow closes Red Rock Canyon, residents enjoy rare snowfall
The greater Las Vegas area was hit with snowfall on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2019. This video shows the areas surrounding Red Rock Canyon and the Summerlin community. Video by: Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Las Vegas kids attend school in the snow
Las Vegas children attend school during a rare snowstorm on Feb. 21, 2019. Staton Elementary School and other CCSD schools remained open. (Glenn Cook/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
People enjoying the snow in Summerlin
Fox Hill Park in Summerlin was busy Thursday morning, Feb. 21, 2019, with people enjoying the rare snow that fell overnight. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NHP advises motorists to take caution during Las Vegas snowstorm
NHP advised motorists to take caution during the snowstorm in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
It is a rainy Valentine's Day in Las Vegas - Video
These scenes come from the Las Vegas Stadium LiveCam (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Business Videos
Impact of parking fees on visiting the Las Vegas Strip
There are no data showing a relationship between Strip resort and parking fees and the number of out-of-state visitors to Las Vegas. But there are data showing a relationship between Strip parking fees and the number of local visitors to the the Strip. ‘’As a local, I find myself picking hotels I visit for dinner or entertainment, based on whether they charge for parking or not,”’ said David Perisset, the owner of Exotics Racing. ‘’It is not a matter of money, more of principle.’’ A 2018 survey by the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance found 36.9 percent of Clark County residents reported avoiding parking at Strip casinos that charge for parking. 29.1 percent reported avoiding using any services from a Strip casino that charges for parking.
MGM's sports betting deals
MGM Resorts International signed a sports betting sponsorship agreement with the NBA in July It was the first professional sports league to have official ties with a legal sports betting house. The deal came just two months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a law prohibiting sports betting in most states. In October, MGM became the first gaming company to sign a sports betting partnership with the NHL. In November, MGM became the first gaming company to sign a sports betting partnership with the MLB. Financial terms of Tuesday’s deal and earlier partnerships have not been announced.
Faraday puts Las Vegas land on the market
Nearly two years after Faraday Future bailed on its North Las Vegas auto factory, the company has put its land up for sale. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
El Cortez owner Kenny Epstein on running the iconic property
Kenny Epstein, owner of the El Cortez Hotel in downtown Las Vegas, talks about Jackie Gaughan mentorship and answers rumors about bodies in the basement at the mob-era casino. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
LVCVA recommends construction of underground people mover
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority announced the recommendation for an underground people mover for the convention center. The system would have the potential to expand and connect Downtown and the resort corridor all the way to McCarran. (Michael Quine/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
LVCVA/Boring Company Press Conference
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority announced a collaboration with Elon Musk's The Boring Company to develop and operate an autonomous people mover system for the Las Vegas Convention Center District.
International Pizza Expo includes green and gluten free
The International Pizza Expo at Las Vegas Convention Center included companies focused on vegan and gluten free, and plant-based pizza boxes. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
International Pizza Expo kicks off in Las Vegas
The first day of the International Pizza Expo at Las Vegas Convention Center is everything Pizza. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
T-Mobile program aids guests with sensory needs
A program at T-Mobile Arena is designed to provide a more sensory friendly experience for guests.
Photo Booth Expo
Danielle May talks about how Simple Booth transformed her Volkswagen bus into a business.
Nevada Gaming Commission's highest fines
The highest fines assessed by the Nevada Gaming Commission, according to commission Chairman Tony Alamo: 1) Wynn Resorts Ltd., $20 million, 2019 2) CG Technology (then known as Cantor G&W Holdings), $5.5 million, 2014 3) The Mirage, $5 million ($3 million fine, $2 million compensatory payment), 2003 4) Stardust, $3 million, 1985 5) Santa Fe Station, $2.2 million ($1.5 million fine, $700,000 compensatory payment), 2005 6) Las Vegas Sands, $2 million, 2016 7) CG Technology, $1.75 million, 2018 8) CG Technology, $1.5 million (also $25,000 in escrow for underpaid patrons), 2016 9) Caesars Entertainment, $1.5 million, 2015 10) Imperial Palace, $1.5 million, 1989 11) Peppermill Casinos, $1 million, 2014
Tiny Pipe Home vs Shipping Crate
A Tiny pipe home was displayed at the International Builders Show this week in Las Vegas.
Auto repair shortage affects Las Vegas
The auto repair industry is facing a national shortage of workers.
Franchising industry booming
Experts say Las Vegas is a hotbed for the franchise industry.
Africa Love owner talks about his store in Las Vegas
Mara Diakhate, owner of Africa Love, gift and decor store, talks about his store in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Developer gets approval to build homes at Bonnie Springs
The Clark County Planning Commission has approved a plan to build 20 homes on the site of Bonnie Springs Ranch. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dig This opens new location In Las Vegas
Remember when you were a kid and played with construction toys in the sand box? Dig This Las Vegas has the same idea, except instead of toy bulldozers, you get to play with the real thing. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Town Square developer Jim Stuart building again in Las Vegas
Las Vegas’ real estate bubble took developers on a wild ride, something Jim Stuart knows all too well. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Salon opens at Veterans Village
T.H.E. Salon, owned by Nicole Christie, celebrated their opening at the Veterans Village with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
Southwest Airlines considering Las Vegas-Hawaii flights
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly says the airline is "very focused" on Hawaii. Hawaiians have a strong presence in Las Vegas.The city’s unofficial status is “Hawaii’s ninth island.” In 2018, at least 2,958 people from Hawaii moved to Nevada. Of those, 88.7 percent moved into Clark County, according to driver license surrender data. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, 310,249 people came to Las Vegas from Hawaii in 2018.
Fewer Nevadans are celebrating Valentine's Day
Fewer Nevadans are celebrating Valentine's Day. About 1.2 million Nevadans are expected to celebrate this year, a 5 percent drop from 2018. A growing number of people consider Valentine’s Day over-commercialized. Others weren’t interested in the holiday or had nobody to celebrate with. But spending is expected to rise. Those who do celebrate are buying for more people. The average American is expected to spend about $162 this year for Valentine’s Day, a 57 percent jump from a decade prior. Katherine Cullen, director of industry and consumer insights at NRF
Foreclosures of mansions in Las Vegas
Las Vegas was ground zero for America's foreclosure crisis after the housing bubble burst. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rick Helfenbein talks about the impact of tariffs on the clothing industry
MAGIC fashion convention showcases men's clothing trends
The MAGIC fashion convention has come to Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center to showcase some of the hottest clothing trends for men. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Allegiant Air flight attendants learn how to handle a water landing
Field instructor Ashleigh Markel talks about training prospective flight attendants for Allegiant Air getting live training with a raft for a water landing at the Heritage Park Aquatic Complex in Henderson on Monday. (John Hornberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery speaks
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery speaks about the new Smith & Wollensky restaurant coming to the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian in Las Vegas.
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery speaks
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery speaks about the new Smith & Wollensky restaurant coming to the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian in Las Vegas.
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery talks about Las Vegas return
Michael Feighery, CEO of Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group, discusses the restaurant's upcoming return to the Las Vegas Strip.
Apartments to Come to Hughes Center
Developer Eric Cohen discusses his current building project at the Hughes Center office park in Las Vegas, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Stratosphere to rebrand to The STRAT
The Stratosphere, a 1,150-foot-tall property in Las Vegas will be renamed The STRAT Hotel, Casino and Skypod.
Home Front Page Footer Listing