February 20, 2016 - 7:45 am
There’s a flicker of life at the old Moulin Rouge casino site on the industrial northwest edge of downtown Las Vegas.
And a property transaction could be in the cards by the end of March.
Not much is left of the fire-ravaged, 5-acre historic casino site that hosted the country’s first racially integrated hotel-casino for six months in 1955.
But these days, there is activity on the property. Trucks are delivering Project Neon road debris, and construction vehicles are recycling concrete at 840 W. Bonanza Road as Las Vegas-based Rebel Sand & Gravel has an air quality permit for a project called Moulin Rouge Restoration.
City code enforcement staffers are keeping tabs on the sand and gravel operators, who are working to remove a building foundation from a different location to take it to the landfill, city spokesman Jace Radke said. Republic Services requires they grind the concrete into manageable pieces, Radke said.
The county dust control application lists Moulin Rouge Group/Ward 5 Chamber of Commerce as the owner. But Olympic Coast Investment Inc. of Seattle is the loan servicing company for a group of about 315 investors who actually own the property. The group has no formal name; the majority of the investors are in the Seattle area.
Ward 5 Chamber of Commerce, a small nonprofit organization, is trying to work with two potential investors who are interested in acquiring the site by the end of March, said Kevin Hanchett, managing member of Resource Transition Consultants LLC in Edmonds, Washington.
Hanchett is an Edmonds, Washington, attorney who owns Resource Transition Consultants LLC, which was appointed by District Court for Clark County to take control of the property and guide the process of disposing of it to a seller. Moulin Rouge Properties LLC had borrowed approximately $18 million to buy the land, but it defaulted on the loan in 2012 and the property was foreclosed on.
Hanchett said the two investors, Max Energy International LLC from the Los Angeles area, and Asraf Rajpoot, also of Los Angeles, are looking to reinstate a purchase agreement.
Ward 5 Chamber of Commerce will act in an advisory capacity to the two investors, Hanchett said.
“Ward 5 has a vision for the property and would like to have that vision implemented,” Hanchett said.
Breathing new life
Hanchett has been in touch with Katherine Duncan, founding president of Ward 5 Chamber of Commerce. Duncan hopes her work will serve as a catalyst to help breathe new life into the former integrated casino site where the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., Ella Fitzgerald, Nat “King” Cole and Louis Armstrong performed more than six decades ago.
“There’s hope. We’re looking for investors. There’s room for volunteers,” said Duncan, who drives a car with “M Rouge” plates.
The plan is to use a redeveloped Moulin Rouge site as a driver to bolster the city’s historic west side, Duncan said.
Duncan said a meeting will be held at the Elks Lodge at 4100 W. Charleston Blvd. at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. “We’re looking for investors and volunteers to sign up for committees. And we want people to come to the Moulin Rouge by bicycle.”
Duncan said her nonprofit raised $100,000 last year toward buying the Moulin Rouge site and wants to sell $250 ownership units to interested parties who don’t have deep pockets. The money would buy a total of 15 acres, which includes the former Moulin Rouge site and also land that hosted condos and government-subsidized housing. Those vacant buildings would also need to be demolished.
Scott Johnson, president of Moulin Rouge Holdings LLC, said, “The biggest challenge is the reputation of the area.”
Duncan and her nonprofit originally wanted to buy the site but failed to come up with the $1 million down payment on Feb. 3 toward the purchase, Hanchett said.
Rebel Sand & Gravel is recycling the concrete because Duncan first thought she would be able to close on the deal, Hanchett said. So, she gave permission to Rebel Sand & Gravel to work on the site.
Hanchett said there was confusion by Duncan over which one of the economic partners was going to fund her down payment to buy the land. Rebel Sand & Gravel began its concrete recycling operation before the sale had closed because of the confusion over the closing date, Hanchett said.
Hanchett is working with Rebel Sand & Gravel on a short-term lease to allow the operators to continue recycling the concrete until a closing is finalized. Hanchett also figured Rebel Sand & Gravel can stick around after any potential property closing to help recycle the concrete blocks from the buildings on the site.
The loan servicer, Olympic Coast, previously had worked out a settlement agreement with the city that allows for round-the-clock security instead of the $2 million to $2.5 million it would have taken to demolish the remaining buildings on site, Hanchett said. The city had wanted the property owners to raze the old buildings.
“Like every project there are complications and issues to deal with. We have eliminated virtually all hurdles to enable us to convey clear title to a buyer,” Hanchett said.
A New York City-based company, GCA Capital Group, floated an idea two years ago for a $230 million to $250 million casino and entertainment development that would include a hotel, retail and restaurants for the site. The Moulin Rouge is the only entertainment site recognized on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places for its significance to the civil rights movement.
The developer had the property under contract and even appeared before the state Gaming Commission, but the project was never realized because of GCA was unable to fund the closing, Hanchett said. A GCA representative could not be reached for comment.
Duncan is determined to move forward.”We’ll integrate it socially and economically,” Duncan said. “No private developer has been successful with this project since it opened in 1955.”
Councilman Ricki Barlow, whose district includes the site, said the new Tenaya Creek Brewing site is “a planting of the seed” along Bonanza Road, and he hopes the former Moulin Rouge site can attract a gaming developer to build a neighborhood casino.
A trailer is brought in periodically to preserve the gaming entitlements on the Moulin Rouge site.
Rebel Sand & Gravel owner Rico Laureano said he hopes the Moulin Rouge redevelopment moves ahead.
“It’s an effort to improve the site,” Laureano said. “The buildings are unsafe and attract the wrong type of people.”