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Chris Jones

Spurned Club Owner Settles

8 February 2005

An Ohio businessman who says he was rejected from Neonopolis because his proposed nightclub would have attracted a largely gay audience has settled his dispute with the struggling downtown Las Vegas mall.

On Thursday, Don Troxel received a check from Neonopolis' owner, World Entertainment Centers, a division of Parsippany, N.J.-based Prudential Real Estate Investors.

Though neither party would reveal the amount of the confidential settlement, Troxel said Monday he "got everything back" related to his 2003 expenditures in preparation for his planned Celebrity Las Vegas nightclub.

"I got justice. It's time to get this monkey off of my back and move on," said Troxel, who in January 2004 told the Review-Journal he lost more than $200,000 when he was unexpectedly shunted at Neonopolis.

Troxel spent much of 2003 working with mall management to open a 10,000-square-foot nightclub on Neonopolis' second floor. Modeled after a successful venture he owns and operates in Dayton, Ohio, the business would have featured live music revues starring a cast of female impersonators.

After he received initial assurances his lease agreement was in order, Troxel said he was turned away that November because mall management was uncomfortable hosting a gay-themed venue. Neonopolis representatives have repeatedly denied those allegations, though they have also refused to explain what caused Troxel's ouster.

In June 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada sued World Entertainment Centers on Troxel's behalf. The case was filed in Clark County District Court, later shifted to federal court, and eventually settled without a trial.

"This was a case where (Neonopolis management's) bigotry extended to where it preferred empty space to (housing) a viable customer," Allen Lichtenstein, the ACLU's local general counsel, said Monday, noting the mall's largely empty status. "It's not as though Neonopolis has lines outside with people who want to rent the place."

Gary Peck, executive director for the ACLU of Nevada, added that Troxel "got some measure of justice" and hopes similar incidents will not take place in Las Vegas.

Theresa Miller, a spokeswoman with Prudential Real Estate Investors, on Monday declined comment on the settlement. However, she said the accord was treated separately from the company's ongoing efforts to sell the property, which opened in May 2002 at a cost of nearly $100 million.

The local office of CB Richard Ellis real estate brokerage is working to sell Neonopolis to an unidentified bidder. However, a Jan. 31 deadline to close a sale was extended indefinitely, Managing Director Mark Bouchard said late last week.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, whose displeasure with Troxel's treatment in part drove Prudential to hire a new third-party management company for Neonopolis, said Monday he's pleased the issue was resolved to Troxel's satisfaction.

"I think his (rejection) was a very bad business decision. Neonopolis needed something like this club; it would have been a magnet for the excitement it now lacks," said Goodman, who agreed to testify on Troxel's behalf had the case gone to trial.

On a recent trip to Dayton, Goodman said, he was approached by several people who are familiar with Troxel's business there. They told the mayor the club had revitalized their city's downtown area and could have a similar effect on Las Vegas.

The city of Las Vegas spent $32 million toward Neonopolis' development, including about $15 million toward the cost of an underground parking garage.

Troxel is preparing to open a similar club at Third Street and Ogden Avenue. That 8,500-square-foot venue, also called Celebrity Las Vegas, is expected to open in early May.

"It worked out for the best. I'm going into a much better location," said Troxel, whose club will join the Hogs and Heifers bar and a restaurant called Triple George Grill in a new downtown entertainment district known as "The Block."