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November 23, 2014

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Wayne Newton gives spoken-word performance for hard-to-please crowd

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Scott Harrison/Retna/www.harrisonphotos.com

Wayne Newton hosts a neighborhood meeting at La Quinta Inn on Sept. 20, 2010, to discuss the museum and commercial tour being developed on his property.

Pity the jet.

It's Wayne Newton's jet, a luckless Fokker if there ever was one. The full make and model of the plane is a Fokker F-28, actually, and it is parked just inside the walls of Wayne Newton's Casa de Shenandoah ranch.

The tail of the partially disassembled aircraft peeks above the fence, even.

It's become something of a symbol, this mysterious Fokker, for the intrigue it has sparked from behind the gates of "The Ranch."

What's happening back there? Is the plane actually rotting away like an old, discarded toy, having been held in a Detroit-area storage hanger for more three years since its last takeoff? Is it to be part of a greater themed attraction? Might it be refashioned into a giant plaything for the kids?

"It's called the junk airplane ... and it had to be moved from Detroit, where I saw what condition it was in," Newton explained to what might have been his most unusual capacity-crowd performance in a 50-year career, in front of a group of about 200 neighbors who assembled at La Quinta Inn on Surrey Street and Sunset Roads. "All of the avionics had been stolen, so we brought it out to our home. It is still a beautiful plane, but it will be surrounded by trees."

That was just one of the specific explanations given by Newton and others in his camp appearing before multitudes of residents who live in the mostly upscale area near Casa de Shenandoah.

These nametag-wearing people were greeted by Newton himself at the entrance of the conference room. Those who reside in the famous neighborhood have been justifiably concerned about the quality of their lives after it was reported by the Sun's Joe Schoenmann that something far more elaborate than ranch living was in Newton's long-term plans for Shenandoah.

Though Newton disputed some of what has been reported about the project (especially the concept that it would be called Graceland West), he did for the first time in a public forum detail what he has planned with his friend and developer Steve Kennedy, managing partner of the development company CSD Management LLC.

What Mr. Las Vegas has in mind, with a financial investment from Kennedy:

• A museum and theater that would sit across Sunset Road from Shenandoah, on the property the now-latent Napa Valley Pottery & Floral store occupies. Kennedy's company bought up that darkened 10-acre parcel for a reported $10 million. Newton said the theater itself will seat around 600, likely be called the Wayne Newton Theater and be designed in the spirit of the old Copa Room at the Sands. And, he said, he will be its primary headliner.

The museum would be a far more expansive version of Newton's "Red Room," which is where Newton keeps some of his mementos and artifacts collected over the years. Newton has stored far more of these photos, trophies and plaques over the years, and wants the museum to be an ode to Vegas, not just an ode to Wayne Newton.

• Regular shuttle tours of Shenandoah itself, giving visitors a chance to see all of the wildlife within, including Newton's African penguins, peacocks, and 70-plus Arabian horses.

Contrary to Clark County records noted in the earlier Sun story, Newton also said he has not sold Shenandoah to Kennedy or anyone else. Kennedy is instead referred to as a "partner" in the next phase of Shenandoah. "We have not sold Shenandoah. It is our home and will always be our home," said Newton, who built Shenandoah in 1965 as a home for his parents and his brother, Jerry.

Newton says the attractions and tour all might be in place in a year, likely not sooner. But there is a lot of work to do, beginning with a traffic study of the neighborhood to submit to the Clark County Commission when he and Kennedy turn in final plans for the project. That process could be finished in two months.

What was made evident during the La QuintaFest presentation — and Commissioner Steve Sisolak was one interested party in attendance — that Newton needs not seek any rezoning approval from the Clark County Commission. The parcel across the road from Shenandoah already is zoned for commercial use — for evidence, look to the east of the Napa Valley building, on the northwest corner of Sunset and Pecos, where a Shell station, Roberto's Taco Shop and Tire Works outpost anchor a little strip mall that would abut the Newton project.

The real problem the majority of attendees at Monday night's meeting have with the project is the shuttling of a still-undisclosed number of Wayniacs down the western entrance of Shenandoah along Tomiyasu Lane.

Ritzy, gated subdivisions sit on that lane. Though most of those homes sit south of the Shenandoah gate where shuttles would be transporting tourists through the Newton estate, many residents spoke out against that very possibility at Monday's meeting. When Kennedy noted that small buses would be driving along Tomiyasu and entering on the west side of the property, a groan went up as residents envisioned dozens of buses each day entering the north entrance of that road.

As one homeowner told Newton representative Jay Brown of Brown & Partners, "I invested $9 million in my home. I don't want to live next to a museum."

Another asked Brown, who handled most of the 2.5-hour give-and-take with the audience after Newton's opening remarks, how many customers the attraction expected to draw each day. That figure is crucial for those who live in the neighborhood, who are eager to know how many buses are going to cross Sunset into the Shenandoah property.

"Is it 50?" the resident asked. "Is it 5,000?"

"I think it would be higher than 50," Brown said. "I think it would be less than 5,000."

"So, between 50 and 5,000?" the seeming exasperated questioner asked.

"I would think so," Brown said, to sarcastic chuckling.

In fact there is no answer, yet, to what type of visitation numbers Newton's project will draw daily or annually. The hours are said to be "during daylight," which also did little to appease the crowd, which was at times impatient but far from unruly. When a questioner asked for a show of hands of those who supported the project, none went up.

When he asked for those who opposed it, the vote was a landslide for "no."

Then, directing his comment apparently in the direction of Sisolak, he said, "And these are voters."

Problem is, there is not a lot residents can do to prevent this proposal from becoming reality. The commercial development in Newton's plans is the parcel across from Shenandoah, which already is zoned for such. That's where the theater and museum will be located, and where ticketed customers will board buses for the tour of the ranch across Sunset.

The 38-acre Shenandoah estate itself is rural neighborhood preservation area, where all that is required for such tours is a special-use permit issued by the county. Sisolak said after the meeting a use permit for the project could be easily approved, but understood the residents' concerns.

"It's for commercial use, but it's not a commercial project," Sisolak said, referring to the paid tours of Shenandoah. But Sisolak, and those in the Newton camp, were more amenable to closing — or, specifically, gating off — Tomiyasu Lane.

That would help prevent the Red Rose Speedway effect on the road now, which is used by heavy-footed commuters as an alternative to the busier Pecos Road. Those streets run parallel to each other.

When it was put to Sisolak that Tomiyasu is to Pecos as Industrial Road is to the Strip, he responded, "Exactly."

And who would pay for that gate? Who do you think?

The same guy who paid for the jet.

More from La Quinta

Among Newton's plans are an upcoming film called "Numbah One," in which he portrays one of the FBI's 10 most-wanted criminals. He's in the top four. Also tabbed for the film: Joe Pesci, Paul Sorvino and Tracy Morgan. ... Newton said he's not calling the new project "Graceland West," because, "I'm not Elvis Presley. I am still alive. And this is Nevada. It is not Tennessee." ... A documentary crew from Rudy Ruettiger's production company recorded the meeting. Ruettiger, of "Rudy" film fame and a Henderson resident, has been working on a Newton doc over the past few months. ... Brown started the meeting by saying, "This meeting is not required by law, but we wanted everybody who wanted to be heard to be heard." He also disputed the notion that the Newtons are at all financially strapped, saying, "They have no debt." ... Newton said he wanted to share Shenandoah "in a way that would not be invasive to anyone," and the museum-theater concept has been in the works for a few months. ... Speaking from the audience, late in the meeting, was well-known Las Vegas administrative law attorney Chris Kaempfer. He laid out the issues clearly and concisely, and not a moment too soon. He was the one who put out the option of gating Tomiyasu Lane, and said any commercial access into Shenandoah off Pecos Road would happen only "when hell freezes over." He said he'd lead the fight against that proposal.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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