Rivalry flares between downtown wedding chapel, hotel

With three-fourths of its TripAdvisor customer reviews either "very good" or "excellent," the Super 8 motel on South Las Vegas Boulevard would seem to merit recognition as a small triumph in downtown redevelopment.

For years the former wing of the Thunderbird hotel at 1213 Las Vegas Blvd. South was so decrepit that city officials branded it a public nuisance. But then Los Angeles investor Ilan Gorodezki bought it out of foreclosure in late 2010 for $1.5 million and spent nearly $2 million on renovations. It now draws customers for lodging, not drugs or quick sex, in a stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard struggling to attain the level of just seedy.

Nevertheless, the 150-room Super 8 also provides a lesson in the unintended consequences of urban redevelopment. Relations between the Super 8 and next-door neighbor Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel have for months spiraled downward in a series of battles over signs, parking and a use of a common driveway, with arguments playing in front of the city’s planning commission, in court and face-to-face between parties in the two businesses.

Animosity peaked in April, when Super 8 began towing the cars of chapel clients and visitors who parked in guest room slots. One car belonged to a rabbi officiating at a wedding, an embarrassment that prompted a Super 8 attorney Michael Brooks to take pains in a later court hearing to explain that the motel owners are themselves Jewish, thus lacking anti-Semitic motivations.

Gorodezki traces the roots of the feud to Viva Las Vegas having gotten accustomed to having a derelict neighbor.

"They are a successful business and I have a lot of respect for them," he said. "But for years they were doing whatever they wanted and they can’t do that any more."

For example, Viva Las Vegas has said in court papers that it resurfaced the common parking area and installed pavers on a semicircular driveway that passes in front of it and the Super 8.

FEELING SQUEEZED

Viva Las Vegas owner Ron Decar declined to comment because of the litigation. But in court papers the chapel depicts Gorodezki as an aggressive newcomer trampling on years of common practice and ignoring easements that let Viva Las Vegas use the driveway and the parking lot.

Moreover, Viva Las Vegas fears it is caught in a squeeze play. Super 8 sits to its south; Gorodezki in April bought the property to its north for $1.2 million. "We would not spend that kind of money just to squeeze somebody," said Zohar Robin, Super 8’s operations director. "This is an investment."

However, a rough sketch on his office wall shows a midrise hotel on the north lot, a now-shuttered restaurant. A swimming pool is shown where Viva Las Vegas stands. Robin said this was just one of several redevelopment ideas.

Viva Las Vegas opened in 1999 on a section of Las Vegas Boulevard where "Old Vegas" is very much present tense. Viva Las Vegas is just one of several independent chapels in the area. As part of its business, Viva Las Vegas received easements to use the motel’s driveway and the parking lot from the late former owner Bob Stupak.

After Gorodezki bought the motel in November 2010, Viva Las Vegas offered to lease the site and make it a "beautified park and gazebo space for wedding ceremonies and receptions," Viva Las Vegas Themed Weddings President Ronald Pokrywka said in an affidavit. Gorodezki declined the offer.

This "began what I am convinced is a targeted and malicious campaign of harassment and threats … ," Pokrywka continued.

TANGLES OVER TRAFFIC

In October, a TripAdvisor reviewer showed the potential synergies of the two businesses.

"I had a great time, my friend got married next door and we had a great party," wrote Bob H. of New York in October.

But the photo he posted highlighted one of the flash points: Three limos parked in the driveway.

Brooks said the limos frequently block the driveway, potentially "imposing a death sentence" on Super 8 because it relies on drive-up traffic.

Gorodezki was less prosaic in expressing his displeasure. He painted a red line across the driveway and parked his car to block it on Valentine’s Day, one of the Viva Las Vegas’s busiest of the year.

The chapel owners, in turn, contend they will suffer badly if they are confined only to the north half of the driveway, forcing limo drivers to make a sharp and dangerous U-turn to enter.

"What is a wedding without the limo business?" said John Krieger, the chapel’s attorney.

The driveway is now the subject of the lawsuit in Clark County District Court. Its resolution may not be enough to end the rancor on Las Vegas Boulevard.

Earlier this year, Gorodezki sought city permission to put up a Super 8 sign, which would be critical to a property that relies heavily on walk-up business. The city Planning Commission rejected the request after Viva Las Vegas fought it, worried that Super 8 would block views of its sign.

The "signage issue quickly metastasized into the current (driveway) dispute," Krieger wrote in one court paper, using a verb typically associated with cancer.

Both sides claim they have tried to talk with each other, only to run into walls.

"When they brought attorneys into it, there is only one way left and that is to win," Gorodezki said.

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at toreiley@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290.

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