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Clark County approved to buy Moulin Rouge property

A judge on Thursday approved Clark County’s bid for the former Moulin Rouge property, marking a new phase for the historic West Las Vegas property that was home to the first desegregated hotel and casino in Las Vegas.

Clark County District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez approved the county’s $6.2 million bid for the 15-acre site, receiver Kevin Hanchett said Thursday.

Former Nevada assemblyman Harvey Munford, who has for years been pushing for revitalization of the Moulin Rouge and the greater Historic West Las Vegas neighborhood, said he was “devastated” and “bewildered” Thursday when he learned the county was awarded the bid.

“The county has land all over the place,” Munford said. “Why would they pick the Moulin Rouge when they know it’s a historic site? You’re basically destroying the legacy.”

Three other groups bidding on the property had hopes of reviving the historic hotel and casino. One also wanted the property to house an African American history museum.

Hanchett recommended the judge approve the county’s offer because the county “has the highest probability of actually closing on the sale,” according to court documents.

Clark County has also agreed to shoulder the estimated $2 million demolition costs, Hanchett said. The County Commission still must approve the purchase.

County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said Thursday the county is mindful about preserving the memory of the Moulin Rouge.

“It’s incumbent on us to reach out to the community to make sure we’re respectful of the history of the site,” he said.

County officials have said they’re eyeing the site for a new building for the Department of Family Services administrative offices, which are now in leased space. The county needs most, but not all of the 15 acres for a new facility and parking, Sisolak said. Sisolak suggested a piece of the property could be set aside to memorialize the Moulin Rouge.

The property is on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as the local register.

Brief but important history

County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly is concerned about the plans for the site because people in West Las Vegas want to see the Bonanza Road property again become a neighborhood gaming site.

“Who are we to say that can’t happen and why not give people the opportunity to bring that dream to fruition?” Weekly said.

The Moulin Rouge was the first integrated hotel and casino in Las Vegas when it opened in 1955. Popular black performers of the day like Sammy Davis Jr., Nat “King” Cole and Lena Horne could perform at venues in other Las Vegas casinos, but they couldn’t stay in their hotels. The original Moulin Rouge was only open for six months in 1955, before being shut down. The building remained, and in 1960 hosted the meeting that effectively ended segregation in Las Vegas resorts and casinos.

Numerous redevelopment attempts over the years have failed, and the Bonanza Road property has been in receivership for about three years.

The site has had different uses over the years, but now it’s in disarray: a series of empty, graffiti-tagged buildings that have been ravaged by fire. Homeless people sometimes seek shelter inside the ramshackle buildings that remain. The state of the site prompted the city to declare it a hazard. The most recent fire ripped through one building this month, and city crews quickly tore down the structure.

The certificate of appropriateness that allows demolition requires some of the historic elements — original foundation, mosaic tile columns and signage — be preserved. Meanwhile, the Moulin Rouge sign features prominently in the Neon Museum’s neon boneyard.

Not the high bid

The county’s $6.2 million bid plus demolition costs wasn’t the high bid, however. Las Vegas Moulin Rouge LLC offered $8 million to be paid in cash at closing, plus all of the demolition costs. The group has made past offers to purchase the site, but has been “unable to make earnest money deposits or meet deadlines,” according to court documents.

Scott Johnson, of Las Vegas Moulin Rouge LLC, said last week his group could go higher if needed. He couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Thursday. Real Estate Management Services LLC also bid $6.2 million for the site. The fourth bidder, Spec Builders USA Inc., bid $5 million plus demolition costs.

The city’s Historic Preservation Commission is slated to discuss the Moulin Rouge next week. Because of the property’s historic designation, the commission will weigh in on the design of proposed redevelopment there.

Las Vegas City Councilman Ricki Barlow, who represents Las Vegas’ Historic West Side neighborhood, said he thinks the county’s plans to develop the site can boost the surrounding area.

“I think it’s great for the entire community, the Las Vegas valley,” Barlow said. “There’s been so much stop and go there. Now we have the opportunity to work with the county, and we know they want to bring economic development to the area, that’s been depressed and suppressed for so long.”

Contact Jamie Munks at jmunks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0340. Follow @JamieMunksRJ on Twitter. Reporter Michael Scott Davidson contributed.

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