This week’s Green Felt Journal was a difficult one for me to write. A few months back, I struck up a friendship with a long-time Las Vegan, David Atwell, who I learned was involved with some of the biggest real estate deals in the city’s history. We had conversation after conversation about the development of Las Vegas and the colorful personalities that made it happen.
In the past few weeks, as David had a few setbacks, we kept in touch, talking enthusiastically about current news in Las Vegas and some of the deals that got us to where we are. He’d urged me to write more about this aspect of history, but I really wish that I had written this article about some of the big deals of the Strip with him as a source, not as the subject:
When we look at the Strip, the builders get all the headlines. We read about the towering figures who transformed the Strip with Caesars Palace, Bellagio and CityCenter. They take an empty space—which, given our penchant for implosions, might be relatively recently empty—and create something that benefits the community.
But before those city-defining resorts were built, they had to secure the land to build upon. That’s where David Atwell came in. Atwell, who died November 25 at the age of 63, is an almost-native Las Vegan. Moving here with his family in 1955, he grew up watching the city grow up around him. Armed with a degree from UNLV, he went into real estate in the mid-1970s, soon focusing on hotel and casino transactions. Among the numerous deals that Atwell helped broker, three stand out as particularly important to both his career and the current shape of the Strip.
Looking at the Strip today, you should appreciate just how big the Dunes deal was. The way history happened, Nangaku bought it in 1987, ran into trouble, and sold it to Wynn in 1992, leading to Bellagio and Monte Carlo right way, and, eventually, CityCenter.
But let’s say that David Atwell isn’t as tenacious in bankruptcy court, and someone else walks away with the Dunes.
If Steve Wynn gets it, maybe The Mirage happens differently; after all, he’d have a whole lot more land to build on at the Dunes.
If Sheldon Adelson gets it, he probably doesn’t buy the Sands in 1988, and the Venetian ends up where the Bellagio is.
Kirk Kerkorian might have turned the property into the MGM Dunes, adding a few thousand rooms and casino space to parts of the existing property, as he did with the Marina, which became part of the MGM Grand.
Hilton and Caesars…it’s hard for me to imagine what they would have done, except that maybe it would have become the site for Paris in the former case and a second Strip resort for Caesars in the second.
So if you’re a fan of the Strip as it is today, you can thank Masao and David Atwell. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to get to know a truly incredible Las Vegan.