weather icon Partly Cloudy

Investors bet busted projects in Searchlight have a chance


Cottonwood Lake Homes, a suburban-style subdivision in this rural town, has street names like Aqua View and Shady Cove, and even some palm trees. But the failed project, a relic of the housing bubble, has far more empty land than developed – and at the main entrance, one of the palm trees is headless.

A few miles away, next to the airport at the south edge of town, investors started building a residential project aimed at aviation buffs. But their plans fizzled, leaving an abandoned subdivision with roads, street signs and fire hydrants but not a single house.

Searchlight, an unincorporated town 60 miles south of Las Vegas off U.S. 95, bears almost no resemblance to its famous neighbor — no hospitals or shopping centers here, and only about 500 residents. The two bubble-era subdivisions were marred by bankruptcies, foreclosures and lawsuits, mirroring the collapse an hour up the highway.

Now, some investors are wagering that these busted projects still have some life in them.

Gary Costello, of the Bakersfield area in California, bought the remaining 52 unfinished lots in Cottonwood Lake Homes in early August for $190,000. And last year, Bill and Joan Turnbull, of Seattle, bought the Searchlight Airpark property for $400,000, county records show.

The investors are unlikely to transform the sites anytime soon, but at the very least, they got swaths of real estate on the cheap – deals they couldn’t pass up, they say. Searchlight, Nevada


Costello, who owns rental properties in California, said he isn’t looking to develop the land, but instead sell it piece-by-piece or in bulk. “I’m looking just to flip it and make a dollar on it,” he said.

He noted that people view Searchlight as being in the middle of nowhere. But, he said, “It’s the middle of everywhere,” situated between Henderson and Laughlin and west of Lake Mohave.

Many people in Las Vegas probably wouldn’t think of moving to a town like Searchlight, but Costello said potential buyers include people who want a second home near the water. And he’s already looking to unload the land.

“Why don’t you buy it from me?” he asked this reporter, offering to “carry the paper,” or finance the purchase.

Bill Turnbull, whose company RC Aerodyne sells remote-controlled helicopters and airplanes, had been looking for an airstrip to fly such aircraft and hold events for RC enthusiasts and vendors.

The Searchlight Airpark initially was designed to have dozens of houses and aircraft hangars, a community where people could fly in and out as they pleased, similar to the tiny town of Cal-Nev-Ari, about 10 miles south of here.

Turnbull said the airpark was a “great deal” – a roughly 40-acre property with paved streets and utilities – and he made an offer the day he saw it.

“My wife just said, ‘Buy it.’”


Searchlight is a remote outpost with mobile homes and abandoned mines. And when Southern Nevada was awash in easy money during the real estate bubble last decade, investors came here with plans to sell dozens of houses.

Chris Harrison and Gary Wells teamed up to develop Cottonwood Lake Homes, just east of Searchlight’s main cluster of homes. They bought the site in 2004 and drew up plans for 65 homes on 16 acres, Clark County records show.

They closed four sales, including one for $511,000 and one for $499,000. But the project flopped with the economy.

Wells filed for bankruptcy in 2008, Harrison in 2009, and they lost the subdivision’s remaining land to foreclosure by 2011.

Wells said in a recent interview that buyers’ response to the project was “phenomenal” – he obtained deposits for every lot within a month of installing a sign to advertise the project. But he said there were extensive delays with the county to get plans approved, and when project lender Silver State Bank collapsed in September 2008, the housing bubble had already burst, and he and Harrison couldn’t get financing anywhere else, they were forced into bankruptcy.

“There was nowhere to go,” Wells said.

Harrison said he spent his life savings trying to keep the project alive and, at one point, had just $20 in his pocket.

“I ended up losing everything,” Harrison said.


Meanwhile, Taylor Emanuel and Richard Jones teamed up in 2004 to develop the Searchlight Airpark, court records show. They laid out plans for 32 homes and 24 aircraft hangars.

But by 2010, Emanuel had sued Jones, and by 2011, the adjacent airstrip was “in disrepair and deteriorating” because the developers had defaulted on their loan, county documents say.

They lost the project site to foreclosure in 2011, and Emanuel filed for bankruptcy in 2013.

Efforts to reach Emanuel and Jones for comment were unsuccessful.

Searchlight resident Diane Kendall, an agent with Global Realty and Management, said it was “very sad” the airpark didn’t materialize.

“There’s still a big potential for that to succeed,” she said. “I hope the new owner does it justice.”

At Cottonwood Lake, at least one resident doesn’t mind living in a failed subdivision.

He said it’s a “peaceful getaway,” and Cottonwood Lake residents are friendly and can go boating, mountain biking, camping or exploring.

“We think of it as a hidden little gem,” he said.

Contact Review-Journal writer Eli Segall at 702-383-0342. On Twitter at @eli_segall

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Business Videos
How much do Las Vegas casino CEOs make?
Las Vegas gaming CEOs made anywhere between $1 million and $24 million last year, according to company filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. ((Las Vegas Review-Journal)
30-year-old Rio needs a little TLC
Nearly 30 years after the Rio opened, the red and blue jewel that helped catapult Las Vegas to a new level with its buffet and nightclub has lost its status along with its shine.
The latest on the Drew Las Vegas - VIDEO
Eli Segall recounts his tour of the Drew Las Vegas, formerly the Fontainebleau, on the Las Vegas Strip. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pinball Hall of Fame to move near south Strip
Operators of the Pinball Hall of Fame have been approved to build a new, larger arcade near the south edge of the Strip on Las Vegas Boulevard near Russel Road. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
National Hardware Show underway Las Vegas
The National Hardware Show kicked off Tuesday at the Las Vegas Convention Center (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Caesars for sale?
Caesars Entertainment Corp. has been swept up in takeover speculation since the company’s share price tumbled last year amid disappointing earnings and concerns over a recession. Amid the decline, hedge funds scooped up shares. Billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn began buying shares of Caesars as early as January. Icahn acquired nearly 18 percent by mid-March. In February Icahn called on the Caesars board to study a sale as a way to boost shareholder value.
Las Vegas home prices
Las Vegas home prices grew fastest among major markets in February for the ninth straight month. But amid affordability concerns, the growth rate has slowed down. Southern Nevada prices in February were up 9.7% from a year earlier, according to the latest S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller index. The last time Las Vegas' price growth fell below 10% was in September 2017, S&P Dow Jones Indices reported.
Free Parking Coming To Wynn
Free parking will come to the Wynn and Encore resorts on May 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Founding Venetian employees talk about 20 years at the Strip resort
The Venetian, which opened May 3, 1999, is celebrating 20 years on the Las Vegas Strip. Seven original employees talk about opening the luxury resort and working there for two decades. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Circa aiming for December 2020 opening
The 1.25-million-square-foot property will have 44-stories and 777-rooms. It will also have a separate nine-story, 1,201-space parking garage.
Boxabl official explains the building concept
Boxabl business development manager Galiano Tiramani shows off a room built by his company. (Blake Apgar/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TI/Mirage Tram reopens
The tram that shuttles guests between TI and Mirage reopened this week after being closed for much of 2018.
Las Vegas Convention Center expansion taking shape
Renderings and actual footage show how the Las Vegas Convention Center is evolving.
Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz at Las Vegas convention
Former Starbucks CEO and potential presidential candidate Howard Schultz spoke at the Epicor Insights user conference at Mandalay Bay Convention Center Wednesday, April 17, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Drew Las Vegas to open in the second quarter of 2022
The 67-story Drew Las Vegas is slated to open in the second quarter of 2022 at the north end of the Las Vegas Strip. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NAB Day 1 (Time Lapse)
NAB kicked off at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Monday, April 8, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
National Association of Broadcasters Show shows 1mm thick 8K TV with 22.2 channel digital sound
Japan’s NHK Science & Technology Research Laboratories booth featured a 1mm thick 8K TV system used in conjunction with a 22.2 channel digital sound system at the National Association of Broadcasters Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Nevada shoppers react to Smith’s no longer accepting Visa credit cards
On March 1, Smith’s announced that it would no longer be accepting Visa credit cards at any of its 142 supermarkets, including the 45 in Nevada.
Massachusetts Gaming Commission asks how long Wynn executives knew about misconduct
Business reporter Rick Velotta gives an update on the adjudicatory hearing on the suitability of Wynn Resorts to retain its gaming license in Massachusetts.
Henderson app developer part of Startup in Residence
Henderson based developers of the app On Point Barricade are taking part in Startup in Residence, a North America program dedicated to pairing tech companies with governments. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Sam's Town employees and customers talk of their love for the iconic casino
Longtime Sam's Town employees and customers love each other and love their casino. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas apartments rents
Las Vegas’ apartment market has accelerated in recent years. Developers are packing the suburbs with projects, landlords are on a buying spree, and tenants have filled buildings.
William Boyd talks about the birth of Sam's Town
On the eve of the 40th anniversary of Sam's Town, William Boyd, executive chairman of Boyd Gaming and son of hotel namesake Sam Boyd, talks about how the casino became one of the first local properties in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
High Roller observation wheel turns five
The world’s tallest observation wheel celebrates it’s fifth year on Sunday, March 31, 2019. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Escape Room Industry Growing In Las Vegas
Escapology employees discuss the growing escape room industry in the U.S. and Las Vegas. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
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)
Las Vegas motorcoach resort offers luxury amenities

The Las Vegas Motorcoach Resort has elevated the RV lifestyle to a fine art, with amenities like a 10,000-square-foot clubhouse, a fitness center, a 24-hour guard gate and concierge services.