Union Plaza made name for itself with legendary stockholders

N obody asked me, and billionaires rarely take my advice anyway, but may I make a suggestion? The Plaza in downtown Las Vegas needs to go back to its original name, the Union Plaza. Many of us never stopped calling it that. Never made the transition to calling it Jackie Gaughan’s Plaza or just the Plaza.

I envision nightmares with two Plazas in Las Vegas, one currently downtown and one proposed on the Strip.

Say you’re an overseas visitor, who just got off the plane after flying interminable hours. You crumple into a cab in a state of exhaustion and declare: "Take me to the Plaza."

Is the cabbie going to take you to the Plaza that’s the farthest from McCarran International Airport and then look indignant when you say, "That’s not the right Plaza"? Or is the cabbie going to be righteous and find out which Plaza? Will the weary visitor know the difference?

Are you going to end up at the one where a room Thursday night was available at the truly bargain basement price of $25?

Or will you land at the one replicating the Plaza in New York, where the room rate Thursday started at $825 and went up to $4,250 for a two-bedroom suite? (I sort of doubt the replica in Las Vegas will charge that much … but you get my point.)

Starting someone’s vacation with confusion by putting them in the wrong Plaza wouldn’t do either Plaza any good. Let’s think about the customers here. The Plaza types who can afford the very best are not going to want to step foot in the Plaza downtown, and the downtown types aren’t going to feel comfortable landing in the uppity Plaza.

I was surprised that a jury ruled that the Plaza in downtown Las Vegas didn’t have the right to have sole proprietorship of the name "Plaza." After all, it’s been a standing property since 1971. The owners of the Plaza Hotel in New York City are all talk at this point, vowing to build a $6 billion Plaza on the site of the demolished New Frontier Hotel on the Strip.

I thought squatters’ rights would prevail in the trademark infringement lawsuit, but jurors said they rejected Tamares Las Vegas Properties claim that their existing Plaza should be the only Plaza hotel in Las Vegas. But it made sense when jurors explained part of their reasoning was that the downtown Plaza has had a series of names, starting with the Union Plaza, then Jackie Gaughan’s Plaza and now simply the Plaza.

So the Elad Group can use Plaza on the Strip and the Tamares folks can use it downtown. But if they’re smart, Tamares won’t. Let me make my pitch for resurrecting the Union Plaza moniker.

Union Plaza is what old timers still call it anyway. Union Plaza has a proud history. (It was the first downtown resort to use female dealers when it opened.) Union Plaza honors the old railroad station that was demolished for the Union Plaza.

A lot of great guys were stockholders in the Union Plaza, including Sam Boyd, Frank Scott, Jackie Gaughan, J.K. Houssels and U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon. These were guys who left their mark on Las Vegas. Gaughan and Boyd were rags-to-riches types who made this town richer in spirit because they were true gamblers, not corporate executives.

In 2004, Gaughan, who had bought out the other owners, sold four of his casinos — including the Plaza — for $82 million to Barrick Gaming Group, which promised big redevelopment plans. Fifteen months later in June 2005, after those big development plans went nowhere, Barrick said it was selling the four casinos to Tamares, the current owner.

Downtown Plaza attorney Dennis Kennedy said during the trial he didn’t want the hotel he represented to be known as "the cheap Plaza" or "the old Plaza" or "the bad Plaza." (Notice I called it the downtown Plaza, rather than "The Plaza that Used to Be Really Nice 30 Years Ago.")

Tamares is now controlled by billionaire Poju Zabludowicz, while Elad is controlled by another billionaire, Yitzhak Tshuva, so perhaps ego plays a role in Plaza vs. Plaza.

How I long for the days when I could spell the owners’ names … and find them at their hotels.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275.

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