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‘They were looking to get rid of me,’ saloon owner testifies

Before the Downtown Grand opened its doors, the casino wanted to get rid of the Hogs & Heifers Saloon, the bar owner testified Monday.

On Oct. 5, 2012, Michelle Dell was asked to view design renderings of the casino, she told District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez.

The first thing she saw was a design board for a concept called “Urban Cowboy” — with a description of music and ambiance that was eerily similar to her honky-tonk bar across the street.

“Alarm bells went off for me,” Dell testified. “It immediately said to me that they were looking to get rid of me, and they were planning on putting in a commercialized, teenage princess version of my establishment.”

Sometime later, Dell declined an offer to give up her 20-year lease in exchange for a waiver of a $250,000 tenant improvement loan and an additional $60,000, she testified.

“I laughed, and I said ‘OK, that’s a nonstarter. How are the wife and kids?’” Dell told the judge.

Monday marked the first day of a civil trial that pits the saloon against its landlord, Downtown Grand, which transformed the former Lady Luck and opened under the new name in 2013.

The saloon sued Downtown Grand and its business entities in 2019, alleging that the landlord breached their lease agreement and was illegally attempting to evict Dell’s business. The Downtown Grand countersued the bar later that year.

At the conclusion of the trial, the judge will determine the fate of Hogs & Heifers on Third Street.

At the forefront of the lawsuit is a dispute over the portion of Third Street, between Ogden and Stewart avenues, that separates the two properties and is part of the lease.

For 13 years, the saloon held charity events and festivals on the street in front of its establishment.

But since 2019, the bar has not been able to use the common area on Third Street to hold events and is seeking compensation for lost funds and sponsorships. Dell also wants the right to use the street.

The owner said she was courted to downtown Las Vegas starting in 2003 by then-Mayor Oscar Goodman and other city officials to be a part of the revitalization of downtown.

In 2004, she worked with her original landlord to present to city officials a plan for how that space would be used, including for events in front of Hogs & Heifers.

The bar opened the next year, and the plan to use Third Street as a pedestrian mall for businesses to host large-scale events was central to Dell’s lease agreement, Dell testified.

Downtown Grand’s attorneys at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP argue in court documents that Hogs & Heifers’ complaint is “nothing more than a smokescreen” and asks Gonzalez to terminate the lease.

The attorneys allege in their filing that the tenant violated the lease by not providing the proper prerequisite for holding a St. Patrick’s Day event in 2019. The casino also blames the patrons at Hogs & Heifers for fights and other documented police activity in the area.

“The landlord is the truly aggrieved party here,” the attorneys wrote. “Instead of cooperating with Landlord and abiding by its Lease, H&H chooses to create a consistently unsafe environment that Landlord can no longer allow to continue.”

Testimony is expected to continue Tuesday.

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @ByBrianaE on Twitter.

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