It began more than 40 years ago with plans to build a resort on the shores of Lake Mead, not far from where the Las Vegas Wash empties into the reservoir.
If the National Park Service hadn’t objected to the idea, there would be no Lake Las Vegas today.
Federal officials were so eager to keep developer J. Carlton Adair from building on his lakeside property that they offered him a swap: his 67 acres on the lake for roughly 2,000 acres along the wash northeast of Henderson.
At the time, the larger tract probably didn’t seem worth the $268,000 Adair had paid for his prime real estate on Lake Mead. Then it came to him. If he couldn’t build his resort on one man-made lake, Adair would make his own lake and build it there.
In 1966, he convinced the Colorado River Commission to allot 10,000 acre-feet of water to fill Lake Adair, but he ran out of money before he could execute his plan.
When Adair filed for bankruptcy protection in 1972, he reported debts of almost $2 million and assets of just over $200, including $50 in cash.
Pacific Malibu Development Corp. of Pasadena, Calif., acquired the property in 1982, then ran into its own problems involving finances and questions about its president’s past.
About five years later, the company teamed with Transcontinental Properties of Scottsdale, Ariz., to launch the joint venture that eventually would build the lake and master-planned community.
First, though, developers had to convince regulators they could safely divert a two-mile stretch of the flood-prone wash that drains most of the Las Vegas Valley and create in its place Southern Nevada’s second largest lake.
They faced staunch opposition from the same Colorado River Commission that allotted water to Adair. Several commissioners labeled the project a waste of water.
Others worried the dam would fail or the lake would become polluted or floodwaters from Las Vegas would surge down the wash and overwhelm the diversion system.
In January 1989, the Clark County Regional Flood Control District delivered what appeared to be a death blow to the project. Citing safety and water quality concerns, the board rejected plans to build the lake on top of the wash. But two months later, the board reversed itself, and work began less than a week later.
The first phase involved construction of two concrete and steel pipelines, 7 feet in diameter and two miles long, to channel Las Vegas Wash beneath the site. Work on the lake’s 4,300-foot-long earthen dam also began that year.
The pipes were done and the wash diverted in early 1990, the same year Transcontinental bought Pacific Malibu’s interest in Lake Las Vegas.
The dam was finished a year later, allowing developers to start the months-long process of filling their 320-acre signature attraction.
In 1993, the city of Henderson cleared Lake Las Vegas to sell its first home sites and start work on one of several planned golf courses.
The first residents moved into the community in 1996.
Today Lake Las Vegas spans 3,592 acres and is home to more than 3,300 people. It features three golf courses, two high-end hotels, a casino, and a shopping district modeled after an Italian village.
Another 615 acres are still available for development.
Contact reporter Henry Brean at email@example.com or 702-383-0350.