Plan to turn Moulin Rouge site into affordable housing questioned

By: - July 3, 2019 7:00 am
Historic photo of the Moulin Rouge

A 1955 photograph of the façade of the Moulin Rouge Hotel.

A plan to purchase the Moulin Rouge site for $5.5 million to develop a casino and affordable housing hybrid was tabled Tuesday amid questions about the project.

Among concerns voiced at the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority meeting, commissioners Lawrence Weekly and Teressa Davis questioned whether the Historic Westside community, which is supposed to benefit from the housing authority’s proposal, had given input. 

“I’m looking, and I don’t see the community here,” Davis said. “I don’t even see our (housing authority) residents here voicing their concerns in regards to this.”

Weekly, who also sits on the Clark County Commission and represents the district the Moulin Rouge site sits in, added that when the county looked at purchasing the property in 2017, community members “raked them over the coals” during three hours of public comment.

“The community wasn’t having it,” he added. “We sat for hours and listened to a lot of open public comment from the community. At the end of the day, we packed our bags up and went home. We heard from the community. I have not heard that from this board, City of Las Vegas or anyone else as it relates to that. How does that work?”

‘This is not just any piece of dirt’

The Westside community has been protective of the Moulin Rouge site because of its historical significance and the role it played in Las Vegas’ developing black community.

The hotel, which operated for six months in 1955, was the first racially integrated hotel, serving black patrons of the community when other Strip casinos denied them service.

After it closed, the Moulin Rouge served as the backdrop to citywide desegregation efforts in 1960 — after the community threatened to protest on the Strip, some hotel officials met with organizers to strike a deal to integrate Las Vegas hotels and casinos.

“This is not just any piece of dirt we are talking about here,” Weekly said. “This is a very sensitive piece of property for the community. It’s historic.”

Though the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the property was demolished in 2017 after several fires.

In the past, prospective buyers have submitted bids on the property as well as proposal after proposal for a new vision for the site. None of those ideas have materialized.

Housing Authority sees revenue stream

The Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority is the most recent to consider acquiring the property to develop a casino and public housing that would create more affordable housing units and provide a revenue stream for the housing authority. 

“The partnership income from using the gaming license would generate significant, unrestricted funds to be invested in modernizing our properties, producing and preserving affordable housing throughout Clark County, supporting our supportive service programs and increasing charitable activity to our community,” said Chad Williams, executive director of the housing authority. 

The move, he added, would be part of a long-term strategy to energize the Westside. 

“The vision of this redevelopment plan centers around the revitalization of our public housing sites and acquiring vacant and abandoned properties to remove blight so that the building of mixed use housing, commercial, retail, entertainment and recreational development starts a catalyst for generating housing renewal and economic development,” Williams said.

Since several commissioners were wary of the idea, Davis said it was best for the housing authority to postpone further action until it does its due diligence to see how the purchase would actually affect the community. 

“I don’t see where the feasibility study was done,” Davis said. “I don’t see our long-term effect. I don’t see our short-term effect.” 

Weekly and Davis were also concerned about money going toward a new project with no guarantees when it could go be used for needed repairs on existing properties or for other revenue shortfalls. 

The property has received interest outside of the housing authority, including the company that operates Dotty’s Tavern. 

Whoever acquires it, Weekly said it should all come back to what is actually best for the community.

“Is this the best site (for the authority)?” Weekly asked. “I don’t know. Have we taken the opportunity to ask the community if this is what they want?”

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues.