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July 22, 2014

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Henderson gateway cries out for makeover

The entrance to Henderson along Boulder Highway from the north is hardly a welcoming sight.

Drivers crossing the city line are greeted by a couple of abandoned casinos, boarded shut and vandalized. It's not an image that Henderson - or any city - wants to project, especially since it's far from the reality of The District and the tree-lined streets in Seven Hills for which the city would like to be known.

At the intersection of Sunset Road, the red Klondike Sunset casino offers $2 blackjack and 10-cent roulette to the drivers of rusted pickup trucks and beat-up compacts. But because its video poker machines at least are still in play, the Klondike ranks as the class of the corner .

Its neighbors have been less fortunate. On one corner rests the Roadhouse, shuttered and battered. On another sits the Victorian Alystra, plywood over its windows, shattered glass surrounding it .

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the Alystra is its owner - Illinois-based Smooth Swing Inc ., run by Jimmy Connors, the five-time U.S. Open tennis champion.

The casino was already closed when Connors' group purchased it in 2000 for $1.8 million, and the dice, roulette wheels and slots have been still since. As investments go, the Alystra, figuratively speaking, so far has been a first-round loss to an unranked player for Connors.

Surrounding the casinos are vacant lots, a used car lot and a motor home mechanic shop.

Don't look for the intersection to grace a glossy magazine cover anytime soon.

Henderson officials, though, have high hopes for the area, not least because it's the first thing many visitors see of the city and helps them decide whether to drive on or stay. Officials look forward to a day when it will be an inviting gateway .

"That's the character we're trying to change," said Deborah Reardon, Henderson's principal planner. "We want the look and feel of it to be like the other entrances to the city."

The down-and-out corner is one of the catalyst sites for Henderson's big plans to redevelop Boulder Highway, a road that once was a major thoroughfare to and from Las Vegas but that now serves as the punch line to jokes and host of long stretches of downscale development.

More gambling won't be a part of the redevelopment effort in the area. Last month the City Council approved an ordinance that requires future large-scale gaming to be more than 5,000 feet from homes, schools and places of worship.

The law effectively killed a deal that would have put the Alystra under new ownership. About 70 acres southwest of the Alystra are zoned residential and a 500-unit apartment complex is planned for the area.

Henderson resident and investor Jim Reding planned to buy the Alystra, but told the council that if he could not put gaming on the site , he would back out.

Representatives of Smooth Swing did not return calls. However, a Smooth Swing representative said at a recent council meeting that , without gaming , the land would likely stay as it is.

The prospects for the intersection's other corners do not look much more promising . Robert McMackin, owner of the Roadhouse, has been trying to sell or lease his property. But he also may be forbidden from future gaming, which would throw a wrench in most plans. The council denied a gaming license extension for the closed casino last year.

McMackin also owns the neighboring Desert Sands RV Park, on which he owes about $100,000 in back taxes.

Council members said the city has been working on the new ordinance for several years and was not targeting the area. But there's no doubt about the effect it could have on the intersection, one of nine planned stops for the new rapid transit MAX bus, expected to debut on Boulder Highway in 2009.

Several residents of the city, which has historically cast a wary eye toward the gaming industry, think the ordinance will permit nicer neighborhoods to develop in the long run. And they want the type of non gaming development seen elsewhere in the city to spread.

"If gaming was going to work out there, Mr. Connors would have had it going," said Councilwoman Gerri Schroder, echoing comments by other council members.

She said she would like to see offices or retail in or around the Alystra's intersection. Schroder and others noted that there is plenty of other land in Henderson that could still be developed for casinos, including near Las Vegas Boulevard South, an area designated as a gaming corridor by state law.

The city already has four casino projects in the works: the M Resort at Las Vegas Boulevard and St. Rose Parkway, in the Landwell development at Lake Mead Parkway and Boulder Highway and two in the Inspirada master-planned community south of the Henderson Executive Airport along St. Rose Parkway.

But in the meantime there are no plans for Sunset Road and Boulder Highway, said Scott Majewski, a city planner.

And so for now the Alystra and the Roadhouse sit.

But they won't be too lonely. The area's homeless people have found a use for them as shelter.

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