|Las Vegas Tribune
By Steve Miller
"Mrs. Pappas, you've had your property long enough. It's time to give it up!"
That is a direct quote from our esteemed Mayor to a citizen of this city as witnessed by . John, Harry, and Carol Pappas, Attorneys Glade Hall and Grant Gerber, City Attorney Brad Gerbic.
In 1990, the City of Las Vegas Downtown Redevelopment Agency wished to clear a one-square-block area located at the southwest corner of Las Vegas Blvd. and Fremont Street so that Florida developer Bob Snow could build a project then to be known as Church Street Station. At the time, the block included the Cornet Store, First Western Savings, a small building owned by former US Senator Chic Hecht, and a 6,000 square foot shopping center owned by the pioneer Pappas family for over 50 years.
In order for the city to take the properties, it had to abide by several laws pertaining to the proper and legal use of Eminent Domain. According to Nevada law, the most important qualification for the seizure of private property for "higher and better" use was that the property being taken must be considered "blighted." The legal description of "blight" includes property that is either vacant, boarded up, or had become an attractive nuisance in the neighborhood. In the case of the properties located within the block the city wanted to take, none of the properties qualified under the legal determination of "blight."
Steve Wynn was a staunch opponent of the Snow project. In 1991, Wynn successfully convinced the City Council that, because the block was not "blighted," the Council should not condemn the property and turn it over to his rival Mr. Snow.
The old City Council determined by a three-to-two vote that it could not take the block by Eminent Domain because of the lack of "blight." Therefore, Mr. Snow's project was moved to it's present location at Main and Ogden, now named the Main Street Station Hotel and Casino.
In 1991, a new Mayor and a new City Council member were elected. To the amazement of observers of Las Vegas Downtown Redevelopment history, the new Mayor and her Council reversed the decision of the previous Council and immediately seized a number of private properties that were not legally "blighted." These properties included the Pappas family's' property.
Mrs. Pappas was a 65-year-old Greek immigrant who escaped the Nazi occupation of her homeland as a young woman to settle in America to live the American Dream. The City's latest scheme was to clear the Pappas land, build a parking garage, then deed the new structure to a cartel of Downtown casino owners including Mr. Wynn, who just five years earlier had argued that the property was not legally qualified to be seized.
Ironically, fifty years after the end of World War II, Mrs. Pappas with her sons Harry and John, were to come face to face once again with the tyranny she and her family had escaped from during World War II.
When informed of the City's Eminent Domain game plan, Carol Pappas requested an audience with Mayor Jan Jones. Carol explained to the Mayor that the shopping center was fully occupied with businesses ranging from a Mexican restaurant to a law firm. She told Jones how she derives a $6,000 per month income from her long-term tenants, and how the center had never had a vacancy. Mayor Jones told the Pappas' that they were to receive no more than $450,000 for their property, and that it was to become a "much needed public parking facility." Mayor Jan Jones then tersely stated "Mrs. Pappas, you have had your property long enough. It's time to give it up!" The meeting ended. A short time later, bulldozers disposed of the Pappas' shopping center.
During the meeting, Mayor Jones neglected to mention that the "public" use of the new parking structure was to last for only six months before she would deed the structure at no cost to her friends in the casino business. Jones also neglected to mention that she was about to personally invest heavily in Mirage/Golden Nugget stock, one of the casinos that was to become an owner of Mrs. Pappas' property. (The Nevada Ethics Commission later cleared Mayor Jones of any wrongdoing regarding her gaming stock holdings by determining that she is not a "major stockholder.")
Councilman McDonald has continued to approve using taxpayer money to fund the casino's court fight to keep her property.
The Pappas property consisted of 7,000 square feet of land located on a corner fronting the Strip and Carson Ave. In 1996, Former US Senator Hecht received $4.3 million -- with Councilman Michael McDonal's blessings -- for a similar 7,000 square foot parcel of land. Hecht's land was located on the same block, except that his land was not on a corner and fronted only on Fremont St. Chic Hecht is a stockholder in Boyd Group, a partner in the Fremont Street Limited Liability Corporation.
In addition to $4.3 million, Hecht accepted a $150,000 per year job as a lobbyist for the Fremont St. Experience L.L.C. One of his first duties was to contact Mrs. Pappas and lobby her to accept the casino's lowball offer. She declined.
In 1996, District Judge Don Chariez ruled in favor of the Pappas family and ordered a jury trial to determine the true value of their property and how much they are owed in back rent. The Pappas' have also filed a punitive damage lawsuit against Jan Jones personally for violating their Constitutional rights.
This year, Chariez was convinced to step down from the bench and run for Congress therefore turning the case over to another judge who on January 15,1999 will determine whether yet another appeal of the case by the casinos should be sent back to the Nevada Supreme Court for "clarification." The Pappas' attorneys are calling the casino's request for another appeal a stalling tactic to try to wear down Mrs. Pappas.
Meanwhile, out on the Strip, Steve Wynn has been engaged in a continuing battle with the owners of a small apartment building known as Villa De Flores. The Flores property is located smack in the middle of the Mirage parking lot and may be responsible for curtailing the westerly expansion of the hotel. To Wynn's obvious dismay, Mr. Flores would not part with his property for less than $7 million (Wynn offered him $3 million). It appears to many observers that Wynn might relish the County stepping in at this time - taking the property by Eminent Domain -- and thus allowing Wynn a "higher and better use" for the Flores' property.
Unfortunately, the Pappas case has set a few precedents that could hinder the County from potentially deciding to exercise Eminent Domain against Flores -- if they are asked to do so. In any event, Judge Don Chariez, by ruling in favor of the Pappas family, threw a monkey wrench into all future Eminent Domain seizures in Nevada - for the time being.
It may be coincidence, but it was reported that Steve Wynn was the one who first convinced Don Chariez to run for Congress thereby causing him to step down from the bench in order to be eligible. By stepping down, Chariez inadvertently opened the way for another judge, possibly one less sympathetic to the Pappas' situation, to decide on Jan. 15, 1999 weather to accept the casino's second appeal request. It may also be coincidence, but on Sept. 25, 1998 Don Chariez informed me that immediately following his stepping down from the bench, Wynn stopped showing interest or support in his congressional race. He told me that Mr. Wynn "is no longer taking my calls."
Irony has many faces: Jan Jones wants to leave town; The Fremont St. Experience L.L.C. parking garage is usually empty, and its' retail area has been boarded up since the day it opened; Chic Hecht is enjoying his new job; Don Chariez is looking for a job; the liability of the Fremont St. L.L.C. remains "limited;" and Steve Wynn must pass Fred Flores' old apartment house every time he enters the back entrance of the Mirage.
Good luck Carol Pappas.