Las Vegas Sun

July 25, 2014

Dream of revitalizing Moulin Rouge suffers blow

For decades, bringing financial viability to the Moulin Rouge has been an elusive dream.

That dream now looks further away than ever, but those who have worked for years to achieve the goal say they will not give up.

An early-morning fire Thursday largely destroyed the theater, casino and lounge area of the historic casino, described as the first modern racially integrated casino in Nevada and the country. The blaze also disrupted and may have permanently derailed redevelopment efforts that appeared to be gaining momentum after years of frustration.

The property's owners, CBC Financial Corp., had planned to close a sale to Moulin Rouge Development Corp. today, part of a long-planned effort to redevelop the structure built in 1955. The exchange now is on hold.

"It is devastating," said Dale Scott, Moulin Rouge Development Corp. president. "We have over two years of research and development in this project.

"We felt that this was going to the flagship of the revitalization of West Las Vegas."

Rod Bickerstaff, the company's general counsel and senior vice president, declined to say how much the deal would have been worth if it had gone forward.

He said the deal would have been worth significantly more than the $2 million that Bart Maybie, president and owner of CBC Financial Corp., said Thursday that he had in insurance.

Bickerstaff said black entertainers and sports figures from across the country had invested in the effort.

He also declined to say who has invested in the project, explaining that any deal will have to be restructured and renegotiated, and the list of investors is likely to change.

Katherine Duncan, an executive for CBC Financial Corp., and the principals with Moulin Rouge Development Corp., said the two companies were working closely and had planned to continue the association to redevelop the project.

Bickerstaff, like other principals, said the effort will continue.

"We should be able to work through this," he said. "The most important thing is not to lose sight of the ultimate objective -- to bring back the Rouge to its original glory."

Scott agreed.

"This means we may have lost the battle, but we will win the war," he said.

But a state official said redevelopment tax credits that would have assisted the effort are now likely impossible.

"We were standing ready to assist them applying for and getting tax credits," said Ron James, the Nevada state historic preservation officer. He explained that his office plays the critical role in approving those credits, and a staff member was already working with the would-be developers.

The loss of the historic theater, bar, murals and other significant parts of the property deals the development plan a fatal blow, he said.

"This, of course, precludes our involvement," James said. "We can't help a structure that doesn't exist."

Those who want to bring the casino back from the ashes are betting that its historical importance will provide the impetus.

Bob Stoldal, chairman of the city of Las Vegas Historic Preservation Commission, said the property's importance is hard to exaggerate.

"At a bare minimum, it was a community icon," Stoldal said. "It was an architectural icon of the West in the sense that it stood for a point in U.S. and Las Vegas history where the racial challenges, racial opportunities were moving forward."

Stoldal is vice president for news at KLAS-Channel 8, and oversees operations at Las Vegas ONE, a cable news partnership of KLAS and the Las Vegas Sun.

Stoldal, who went to the burned-out property Thursday evening, said he hopes a part of the casino's heritage can be rescued, starting with the distinctive "Moulin Rouge" sign itself.

"We have to save the sign," he said. "There have to be other pieces of that building that we can save.

"There has to be a monument to the Moulin Rouge and what it stood for."

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