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Backers pitch redevelopment of neglected Moulin Rouge

26 February 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Backers of a proposal to revive the long-defunct Moulin Rouge casino said Monday they are undaunted by the prospect of placing a $700 million bet on a troubled Las Vegas neighborhood.

The project is an attempt to revive a casino that operated for less than a year in 1955, but because it was the first racially integrated resort in Las Vegas still holds a significant place in local culture.

On Thursday, proponents of a plan to build a new resort on the Bonanza Road site where the dilapidated remains of the original Moulin Rouge still rest will take their ideas to the city's planning commission.

The community meeting was a chance for the public to see the plans and shake hands with the backers, including Michael Van Every of Republic Urban Properties, the real estate development company that's funding the project.

Republic Urban Properties, a developer that specializes in center-city revivals, recently bought into the original plans by the Moulin Rouge Development Corp., a local group that has tried and failed to jump-start redevelopment since 2004.

Van Every said customers will remember the Moulin Rouge brand even though there hasn't been a viable resort on the site since 1955.

"We are a partner with what is really already an established hotel and casino," Van Every said.

He said the company would finance the project throughout the design and permitting process then seek investors from the financial markets.

"At the time we get through entitlements, there will be people lining up to be with us," Van Every said.

The event on Monday was largely a goodwill gesture, aimed at raising the project's profile. It was held in a loading area at the back of the Moulin Rouge Development Corp. offices on Bonanza Road, just east of Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Overviews of the project and community comment cards were available on a covered pool table. Project supporters, low-level political operatives, representatives from business groups and local journalists milled about and listened as backers pitched the proposal.

"It is time for inclusion," said Dale Scott, executive vice president of the Moulin Rouge Development Corp. "It is time for uptown Las Vegas to be included in this multibillion-dollar industry."

The current proposal calls for a 700-room hotel tower, 30,000 square feet for gambling, a concert venue with seating for 1,200 people, a pool, a small jazz center and 50,000 square feet of convention space.

Republic Urban's other projects include The Portals, a $1 billion mixed-use development in Washington, D.C., that includes offices for the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Aviation Administration, private government contractors and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, a 400-room upscale hotel.

In Las Vegas the company is facing not only a challenging location but intense competition from downtown, Strip and locals casinos. Resort operators downtown have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades in recent years.

Consumer expectations are also sky-high compared with the days when Moulin Rouge first opened. Customers demand better rooms, high-tech amenities and upscale dining in addition to a casino.

Van Every said the Moulin Rouge would have a similar business model as locals casinos such as Red Rock Resort on Charleston Boulevard at the Las Vegas Beltway or the Gold Coast on Flamingo Road, across from the Palms.

But an academician is skeptical.

Rainier Spencer, director of Afro-American studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the area around the Moulin Rouge is in no position to support a hotel-casino.

Since the original closed in late 1955 the neighborhood has continued to decline. In addition to the run-down remnants of the old hotel, it is home to a used-car dealership, a soup kitchen, a United Parcel Service distribution center and numerous empty buildings.

"You can have a billion dollars and have it not really prosper there," Spencer said. "Who is going to go there to gamble after the first week when all the photo-ops are over?"