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VEGAS MYTHS BUSTED: Holdout Apartment Owner Refused to Sell to Steve Wynn


Posted on: February 26, 2024, 08:16h. 

Last updated on: February 25, 2024, 09:23h.

The internet has made modern folk heroes of real-estate holdouts who stand up for what’s right in the face of corporate might. One of the most famous is Edith Macefield of Seattle, the little old lady who refused to sell her family’s 108-year-old farmhouse to developers, forcing them to construct their commercial building around it. (If that story sounds familiar but you don’t know why, it inspired the 2009 Pixar movie Up.)

Las Vegas has a David-and-Goliath story just like that.

The Villa De Flores is the very last low-rent apartment complex left on the Las Vegas Strip. (Image: vintagelasvegas.com)

“During the development of The Mirage in the late 1980s, the Villa de Flores owner refused to sell the property to developer Steve Wynn,” according to historiclasvegasproject.com.

Only, like hundreds of other stories told about Las Vegas, this one isn’t exactly true.

Landlord Locked

The 6/10ths-of-a-parcel lot at 3601 Vegas Plaza Drive, first purchased by Blake Ruth in 1964, was sold to Mike Flores and his parents for around $500,000 in 1974, according to Clark County records. The new owners built the 36-dwelling building on the lot that still stands today.

The Villa De Flores is a cheaply made, two-story stucco box of 480 square-foot studios and 900 square-foot one-bedrooms. Hundreds of identical apartment buildings still stand across the Southwest, where their continued presence is usually a sign of economic stress.

That’s no longer the case with the neighborhood surrounding the Villa Del Flores.

The secret apartment complex behind The Mirage and Treasure Island — located fewer than 50 yards from TI’s employee entrance — is something people don’t usually stumble across unless they get lost exiting one of the resort’s parking lots.  (Image: Google Earth)

In October 1986, casino mogul Steve Wynn purchased the Castaways casino for $50 million and started buying up the land surrounding it.

A year later, he began building The Mirage, whose $630 million price tag made it the most expensive resort ever. Wynn hadn’t purchased all the surrounding land, however. And by the time he sought to build his $430 million Treasure Island in The Mirage’s former parking lot in 1991, it was clear that the Villa De Flores stood smack in the way of his vision.

But here’s the thing: Flores always wanted to sell his property to Wynn.

I feel like [General George] Custer, I’ve been here so long,” he told KTNV-TV/Las Vegas in 1993. “I just wanted to retire and fade into the sunset. I’m still here. So please, Steve Wynn, buy the place … Please, I’m desperate.”

And the reason he was so desperate by then was because of his own greed. While the myth would have you believe that Flores, like Edith Macefield of Seattle, won his battle, the truth is that he decided to play hardball with someone very out of his league and lost.

Very hard.

Real-life Pirate Battle

The Villa de Flores offers studio and one-bedroom apartments starting at $1,050 per month. (Image: KSNV-TV/Las Vegas)

Seeing the property as his lottery ticket, Flores demanded $6 million from Wynn, which was unreasonably high. At the time, the total assessed value of the land and buildings was only $291,870, according to county records.

Wynn refused to be extorted, but countered with a still-generous $2 million. And if you’re wondering why the two men couldn’t just meet in the middle of at $4 million, it’s because these were both very stubborn men.

In fact, after Flores rejected Wynn’s offer, the casino mogul focused his energy on ways to retaliate against Flores — at least according to Flores.

Wynn may or may not have encouraged Clark County to schedule roadwork in a manner that cut off all traffic in and out of Villa De Flores, as Flores claimed. But he very purposefully situated something across the street from the apartment building that made tempers, among other things, explode.

Three huge tanks were buried only a few hundred feet from the Villa De Flores. They stored all the propane necessary for “Battle of Buccaneer Bay,” Treasure Island’s fiery free pirate show on the Strip.

In 1999, one of the tanks went up in flames. Miraculously, none of the apartment residents was injured in the blast or ensuing fire. It was ruled accidental, though Flores called it an “accident waiting to happen.”

“Steve Wynn is to the good-neighbor policy what Jeffrey Dahmer is to dining etiquette,” Flores said around that time, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Spite Hotel

Las Vegas fire crews battle a 1999 fire across from the Villa De Flores apartments in 1999. (Image: KSNV-TV/Vegas)

In 1997, Flores fired the next salvo in what had become a real-life pirate battle. He decided to auction off the land beneath his property to the highest bidder.

Apparently, he figured that the threat of situating an even wealthier, more avowed Wynn enemy between his own two mega-resorts would finally force Wynn to come close to or meet his $6 million demand.

But Flores’ plan backfired. Only three entities registered for the auction:  

  1. A shopping center developer named Martin Cable, who started the bidding at $1 million and never went higher;
  2. Imperial Palace owner Ralph Engelstad, who, six years earlier, had purchased 20% of the Villa De Flores for $1 million; and
  3. A representative of The Mirage, who didn’t place a single bid.

Flores ended up outbidding Engelstad for his own building at $3.5 million, becoming its sole owner.

Not sunk yet, Flores next announced plans to redevelop the Villa De Flores into a nine-story hotel and timeshare tower that would compete with both its next-door neighbors. Decades later, Larry David would have referred to this as a “spite hotel.”

Wynn returned fire with a lawsuit claiming that the proposed hotel was too big and would violate several building codes.

“He sued me, he sued my parents, he sued my architect, he sued the county commissioners,” Flores told KSNV at the time. “I think he sued my cat and my mother-in-law.”

Goliath Moves On

Edith Macefield’s 124-year-old family farmhouse, where she died of cancer in 2008 at 86 years old, now sits between an LA Fitness and a Ross clothing store in Seattle. (Image: amusingplanet.com)

Flores never got to build his spite hotel and, by 2000, Wynn lost interest in making life miserable for him. That’s because he had already sold The Mirage and Treasure Island, for $4.4 billion, to the company that became today’s MGM Resorts.

Wynn used his windfall to buy the Desert Inn for $270 million, knock that down, and build the $2.7 billion Wynn Las Vegas — once again, the most expensive resort ever — in its place.

Flores finally sold the Villa De Flores in 2004, but not to MGM. He got $3.8 million from real-estate investor Kevin Golshan of LA.

Three years later, Golshan flipped it for just north of Flores’ original dream price: $6.5 million. The buyer was Henderson, Nev. resident Ray Koroghli, who still owns the property today.

It would be surprising if Koroghli hasn’t already heard from his new neighbors, the Seminole Tribe of Florida. They’re not only about to transform The Mirage into the second Hard Rock Las Vegas, tearing down the volcano to build a 36-story, guitar-shaped hotel, but we hear they’re trying to get casino magnate Phil Ruffin to sell them Treasure Island as well.

Neither the tribe nor Koroghli returned Casino.org’s emails and voicemails asking about their plans for the secret apartment complex.

Look for “Vegas Myths Busted” every Monday on Casino.org. Visit VegasMythsBusted.com to read previously busted Vegas myths. Got a suggestion for a Vegas myth that needs busting? Email corey@casino.org. 



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