Randy Char: Real Estate King
As Vegas real estate takes an upward turn, record-setting salesman Randy Char focuses on the city’s changing community.
May 14, 2013
From a balcony at One Queensridge Place, Randy Char sees a bright future for the Vegas real estate market.
Unlike most kids, who dream of becoming firefighters or policemen, Randy Char wanted to be the next Gordon Gekko, the fictional tycoon in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street. “I never wanted a salaried job,” he says. “I wanted to be in a performance-based environment.”
His career gamble has paid off. Char moved to Vegas from San Diego in 1995 and sold 29 homes in six weeks, resulting in executive positions with some of Southern Nevada’s biggest builders. Last year he closed on 13 homes, totaling $20 million, at One Queensridge Place. That marked a 1,000 percent annual increase for the dual tower high-rise in Summerlin, a performance that led to Char’s promotion to senior vice president of operations in January. And in the first two months of 2013, he had already sold more than he did in all of 2012.
“Luxury California buyers are looking for Vegas high-rise living right now,” Char says. “These buyers can take advantage of the tax benefits of establishing residency in Nevada and desire an exclusive environment, but don’t want the upkeep of a huge custom home. They want the amenities, such as fitness centers, spas, and pools. And the support, from the concierge to valet, is appealing to people and their busy lifestyles.”
Even though many insiders say the real estate market has bottomed out, Char doesn’t think you should look at investment periods as so black and white: “To get the best deal, you have to look in the rearview mirror, because by the time you realize it’s time to buy, the market has already bounced off the bottom. It could be argued that the best deals were a couple years ago, but that was also a high period of uncertainty. Today the future looks much more stable. Vegas remains arguably the most undervalued market in the country, and therefore there’s a considerable amount of room to grow.”
Char zeroes in on what the modern buyer is searching for—mainly anything but “mega-mansion” living, he says. “Buyers are looking for the right-size home and functionality, not pretentious displays to outshine the neighbor. The days of keeping up with the Joneses are over. They want residences that fit their needs, whether that be for family, entertaining in the kitchen, or specialty spaces in the home. They are considering what school district the home is in, proximity to the airport, to work, or to outdoor activities. Now that the industry is coming back, it’s about fundamentals.”
New-home shoppers like the ones Char caters to are looking to skip the drama that has become synonymous with real estate in Nevada. “They want to select the community, the home, everything down to the details of the finishes,” he says. They also don’t want to worry about the unforeseen expenses that may crop up with resales. “Today’s new-home buyer wants peace of mind.”
Sparer and Klai: Perfect Design Duo
The design of the new Gay and Lesbian Community Center is in good hands: famed architects (and longtime couple) Jon Sparer and John Klai.
February 11, 2013
Jon Sparer and John Klai with their two dogs.
Jon Sparer and John Klai remember the moment when they recognized how great the need was for The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada.
“At a meeting for the center we heard a story,” Klai says. “A staff member had received a distressed call from a gay kid, who was at that moment locked in his room about to commit suicide.” Some quick thinking was key. “While he was on the phone keeping the boy calm, the police came and literally saved his life.”
The center has been working on a permanent home to call its own for years, and it will proudly open in Vegas in February. YWS, an architectural firm of which Sparer is principal, designed and built the Midcentury Modern downtown gem, with Klai serving as sounding board. They have plenty of experience together in this fashion: The couple have been together 27 years, 13 as domestic partners, and have a 29-year-old daughter, Allison.
“With the redevelopment of downtown Vegas, there are some great examples there of this style in homes, old motels, and even pylon signs,” Sparer says. The community center has an outdoor courtyard, wellness center, café, large library, and computer lab. “This is a safe place for kids, youth, and people of all ages including seniors,” says Klai, who is an active committee member for the center’s annual fundraiser, Honorarium.
Klai’s Klai Juba Architects is behind the current Palms renovations, remodels of Hard Rock and Planet Hollywood, and the design of Mandalay Bay. Sparer’s firm designed the new Hakkasan restaurant and nightclub, and projects as far away as Beijing and Perth.
The two architects living in one (sleek and contemporary, but warm and inviting) house laugh when asked if there is competition. “We don’t really bump toes,” Sparer says. “It’s a big collaborative community in this town. Vegas is a city, but a small town, and we celebrate each other’s successes.”
photography by brian brown
Doors Open at the Neon Museum
Danielle Kelly and Justin Favela bring history alive at the Neon Museum, which just celebrated its long-awaited opening to the public.
January 03, 2013
Justin Favela and Danielle Kelly show off the famous Stardust sign.
No two of the famous signs are quite alike, save for their onetime neon illumination, from the old Stardust visage that hearkens to the dazzling and dangerous qualities of nuclear testing, to the swirling, cursive Moulin Rouge pattern that reminds of an all-too-brief, six-month run by that hotel in 1955, the first hotel-casino in the country to allow blacks through its front doors as customers.
So many signs, so many stories. Now, through the power of passion, these once-glowing beacons of history are open to the public, at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, which is positioned in an open lot just north of where Las Vegas Boulevard intersects Fremont Street, close to the original home of many of the signs now on display. Two of the Neon Museum’s employees share a devotion to the project, which, for them, is inherently personal.
Executive Director Danielle Kelly once taught art at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. So she appreciates the neon pieces as art, certainly. But not entirely.
“These signs are so Vegas,” she says. “They are fine art and even high art, but they are also architecture. They’re elegantly designed, they’re commercial, and they’re blue-collar, too: They are just doing their jobs.” Kelly says she cried while touring the attraction in the weeks leading to its opening. “There is something about the nostalgia that is really meaningful,” she says. “The signs are not perfect, but they are perfectly flawed.”
Senior tour guide and programs administrator Justin Favela writes the scripts and leads a team in giving those tours, including the one that made Kelly tear up. His passion for Strip history is long in the making: He was in the crowd when the Dunes was felled by a series of theatrical cannon shots from Treasure Island on October 27, 1993. “I was traumatized,” says Favela, who was eight years old that fateful night. “I couldn’t watch another implosion until the Frontier, the last one, in 2007.”
To Favela, watching the Dunes fall was as if he were witnessing the destruction of his own home. His grandmother and aunt were maids for years at the Dunes until it closed six months before the hotel was imploded. (Favela’s aunt still works on the Strip, at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon, formerly Barbary Coast.)
Favela’s familial connection to the signs he describes during tours—and to the hotel-casino industry in general—runs deep. His father worked at Binion’s Gambling Hall & Hotel (formerly the Horseshoe Club) before Favela was born; his stepfather, who raised him, has worked at Luxor since it opened; and his mother worked at the café at Circus Circus and today is at the Palms. His grandfather and an uncle worked at La Concha as dishwashers—and when Favela goes to work each day, he now walks in through the old La Concha lobby, as it has been reconverted into the Neon Museum’s visitors’ center.
“Almost every family member of mine works at a casino,” he says, laughing. “Point to any casino on the Strip, and I have a cousin who works there, basically.”
The former arts student at UNLV found out about the Neon Boneyard after hearing it houses the old Stardust sign. “I wanted to see it up close and personal,” he says. He took one of the private tours of the old facility, which covered two lots before the collection was consolidated to a single parcel, and asked if he could volunteer. That was in 2007.
“I started doing tours, and eventually they just hired me because I wouldn’t leave them alone,” he says. “Then I started the volunteer program that we’re using now.”
“My family always makes fun of me for being nostalgic,” Favela says. “Here, I get to live in the good old days.” 770 Las Vegas Blvd. N., 702-387-6366
photography by leila navidi
Saving Kids One Excercise at a Time
Mike Waters gets kids in motion and domestic violence victims on the path to recovery through his fitness programs.
December 17, 2012
Sports trainer Mike Waters gives a lift to the next generation of athletes.
For years, Phase 1 Sports co-owner Mike Waters has dedicated his career to cultivating and training young and professional athletes. But this season he’s focusing on two different demographics: children in need of more physical activity and domestically abused women. Combining his knowledge of training and his passion for volunteering, he’s organized a physical fitness day for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Nevada, and free self-defense classes for women from The Shade Tree shelter.
“Our blueprint here is to do everything for the right reasons. We’ve had great results with that, and in turn we’ve been a successful business,” he says of the 10,000-square-foot facility—complete with 40 yards of indoor turf, hanging ropes, kettle bells, and more—that he has owned for the past nine years.
The Big Brothers Big Sisters event scheduled for this month is an opportunity for “bigs” and “littles” to utilize the Phase 1 Sports facility and strengthen their bonds.
“After talking to a lot of mentors, it seemed that many of them go to the movies with their ‘littles’ or to the library, but they never do anything with a lot of physical activity,” he says. “We want to get them moving and teach them a little about health and nutrition, hopefully motivating them to play sports or get involved in other programs.”
Waters, 34, has always viewed sports as a way for kids to stay out of trouble and create opportunities for themselves, and this stems from personal experience. Growing up in Southern California, he had a best friend he did absolutely everything with up until Waters went to college to play football. That friend is now 12 years into serving a 19-year jail sentence for armed robbery. “I owe football for sending me in this direction,” he says. “I started to wonder how many young athletes don’t have anyone who’s proud of them.”
NFL linebacker Brandon Marshall and D.J. Campbell of the Carolina Panthers are two successful men Waters worked with from a young age. He aims to do the same for others, whether they can afford his facility’s fees or not.
“No athlete has ever been turned away from our program—ever,” he says. “How do I say no to them and still go to sleep at night?”
This attitude is what led him to develop his self-defense program, with free classes once a month for domestic violence victims from Shade Tree. As a mentor to so many young people over the years, he was touched by the stories of single mothers in abusive relationships. “We’re not only going to teach them the physical parts of the class but the mental parts of it,” he says. “Maybe they’ve already been through something traumatic, so we are giving them the opportunity to do something proactive.”
photography by eric ita
Brett Torino's Artful Office
For this Harmon Corner developer, work inspiration comes via a colorful office full of museum-worthy finds.
June 06, 2012
Stepping into developer Brett Torino’s “office building” is a surprisingly cultural experience, an enchanting visit to a one-man museum. Precious antiques rest in the reception area, and a dazzling coral-like sculpture by artist Robert Kaindl hangs above the stairs, a massive twist of red glass that is the heart of the building.
That’s just the beginning: In the main office upstairs, the ceiling is a creation of Torino’s own design (as is the rest of the building), a brilliant collage of hand-painted leather lids from Tibetan trunks. In one corner sits a hardened clay model of a village dating back to the Ming Dynasty. “How many generations of people is that?” Torino marvels. His sense of humility permeates the space, and you can’t help but feel the same way: lucky to be around these objects.
One of the most quietly successful Vegas-based land developers of the past three decades, Torino is certainly a collector. The amazing pieces under this roof—which also include a beautifully restored, fully operational, turn-of-the-century carousel and the gleaming perfection of what has been called the greatest muscle car collection in the world—certainly attest to that. But for Torino, holding on to these meaningful items and being the keeper of their stories is merely an extension of the way he thinks and lives. “It’s not about money, it’s relationships,” he says. “It’s about people liking you. When people trust you, they let you into their world.”
Torino is equally humble in regard to his business. He was a major multifamily residential builder during the mid ’80s and ’90s across the Southwest and has turned his attention to the Strip more recently, buying his first property here in 1995, before selling the majority of his company in 2001, a few months before 9/11. “I’ve always had the propensity to know how to buy land and been willing to take chances and see opportunity perhaps where others didn’t,” he says. “I love the Strip because it is the most competitive environment for real estate in this country. You’ve got the best and the brightest competing for limited resources, so it challenges you to be on your A game."
Torino’s latest project demonstrates that he’s indeed playing the game at its highest levels. The recently completed three-story Harmon Corner retail center, which cost $120 million to construct, is turning heads and generating traffic for a variety of reasons. Atop the development sits the largest high-resolution video billboard in the world, a 322- by 65-foot wall of near-unlimited advertising and branding potential.
Torino says he’s made a career out of proving doubters wrong, and the Harmon Center project was no different. People scoffed when he and his partners paid $25 million for the oddly shaped 2.15-acre parcel in a depressed economy. Torino now considers the project one of his most successful. “The first time somebody tells me something isn’t going to work, I know I’m probably doing the right thing,” he says. “The fact is, when there’s a desire to do something and fulfill a need, you just do it. It’s that simple.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JEFF GALE
Roger Thomas: Wynn's Top Design Mind
Wynn Design’s Roger Thomas is changing the look of Las Vegas from the inside out.
March 05, 2012
Eye-catching Buddhist Guanyin statuettes sit atop the handsome white-and-bronze-mirrored dresser in Roger Thomas’s office, one of its many global elements. For a deep thinker like Thomas, seeing the world is an important source of inspiration: Flip open the dresser’s top drawer to find his piles of bound red and black Hermès sketchbooks. “While traveling, I draw every idea I have,” says the design powerhouse, “good or bad, all day, every day.”
When walking through the ornate lobby of Wynn Las Vegas, Thomas’s global aesthetic is palpable. As the executive vice president of design for Wynn Design and Development, Thomas has made every project for Steve Wynn a progression from the last one, so that the history of hotel-casino design on the Strip can practically be seen through his creations. The Mirage’s indoor tropical rainforest and Treasure Island’s swashbuckler theme fed the ideas that would spawn Bellagio, with its detailed and elaborate Lake Como theme and botanical conservatory. The Wynn Las Vegas and Encore properties were both a departure and a progression from all previous projects, with the idea of an overall theme abandoned in favor of completely original “design language.”
But Thomas’s work is never done: In line with Steve Wynn’s belief that once you’ve set the bar, you need to keep raising it, Thomas recently completed a revamp of the resort’s Tower Suites and the creation of a new high-limit slots room. “They had wanted a dark, men’s club kind of thing,” he says. “Turns out the people who use high-limit slots are women, so that wasn’t the right move. So we took out Blush nightclub and did a new high-limit slots area. We’ve also tripled the size of the Tower Suite lobby, and I’ve completely refreshed Tableau, with a whole new scheme and colors and a glistening marble floor. It’s a much more active, younger, funnier, brighter room.”
Thomas’s own environs, thanks to more than three decades of collecting, are brimming with eye-catching objects. A large painting of a younger Thomas, looking quite dashing in a tuxedo with a Russian wolfhound, hangs between two bookcases lined with notes, plans, books, and collectibles that have only the designer’s world travels in common. On the design front, his next progression will be Wynn Cotai, set to break ground this year. Thomas has been going at full speed with projects for Wynn Resorts’ third property in Macau and ongoing redesigns at Wynn Las Vegas (which celebrates its seventh anniversary in April), while also fulfilling obligations for his Roger Thomas Collection of luxury furniture, décor, and now jewelry. “I’ve always said I am a residential designer,” Thomas says about his foray into home décor. “I just do really big residences.”
The Thomas Collection includes a 34-piece line of furniture for luxe design company Edward Ferrell + Lewis Mittman, as well as mirrors, outdoor furniture, wall coverings, carpet design, and lighting for other high-end furnishers. The collection was named to Architectural Digest’s prestigious AD 100 list for 2012. His jewelry line is the newest frontier: Made with Murano glass, Thomas’s designs will be manufactured by Italian mosaic specialists Sicis. He had worked with the company on the floors for the Bellagio conservatory and Encore before Sicis’ owner asked him to create micro-mosaic rings, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings. Cuff links are next, sure to find their way into the wardrobe of his most important client.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY LEILA NAVIDI (OPENER), LETTER, GLASSES, SKETCHBOOKS); GERALD GAUNTY (SLOTS ROOM)
Sam Nazarian Hits Vegas
One of the country’s biggest nightlife brands, Sam Nazarian’s SBE, opens LA Hot Spot Hyde with a bang at the Bellagio on New Year’s Eve.
December 15, 2011
|Man with a (nightlife) plan: SBE’s Sam Nazarian|
When SBE opens its first club in Las Vegas on December 31, it won’t be just a new nightlife player in town; it also becomes one of the biggest. With 32 venues coast to coast (including Greystone Manor, The Colony, and The Abbey in Los Angeles), SBE’s portfolio casts an impressive shadow. The irony, of course, is that until now SBE hasn’t owned a single club on the Strip. That all changes this New Year’s Eve, when Hyde Bellagio opens its doors. “We’re really, really focused on hitting this one out of the park,” says SBE founder, chairman, and CEO Sam Nazarian.
An ultra-lounge by day and chic nightclub by night, Hyde Bellagio comes from SBE’s most prominent nightlife brand, with locations on the Sunset Strip, at the Staples Center, and at Mammoth Mountain (and next summer, on South Beach). You’ve likely heard of it, whether you’ve partied with the stars in SoCal (Prince, Gerard Butler, will.i.am, and Drew Barrymore are among SBE’s A-list regulars), or read about it in the tabloids.
Nazarian, 36, says Hyde is the kind of place that is “just as fun at 5 PM on a Tuesday as 3 AM on a Saturday.” The locale already has that mojo—Hyde is opening in the former home of Fontana Bar, with its famous views of the fountains that made it a hot spot afternoon to night.
In a world of mega-venues that weigh in at more than 60,000 square feet of pool clubs, lounges, and restaurants, Hyde’s 10,000 square feet will be a stand-out quality. “The DNA is different,” says SBE’s head of nightlife, Costas Charalambous, “from design to programming to service.” Nazarian says that at SBE’s core is repeat business, both local and non-local—after all, there is now no need for his LA fans to spend their money elsewhere when they weekend in Sin City. Stellar customer service and taking care of familiar faces are more plausible in this intimate locale. (Hyde’s capacity is 714, while its competitors easily turn five times that every night.)
Unlike many Vegas nightclub heavyweights, Nazarian didn’t get his start as a promoter. “We owned 12 hotels before we opened our first club,” he says. “Real estate allowed me to understand the importance of locations.” With the romance of the Bellagio fountains at its doorstep, Hyde seems to have hit the Vegas jackpot. “It was worth the wait,” Nazarian says.
In town, SBE did go the hotel route first: It owns the Sahara, which will soon embark on a massive remodel and give way to an all-new hotel/casino concept, including a sprawling beer garden and 21,000-square-foot nightclub. But first, Nazarian must survive his first New Year’s in Vegas. “It’s going to be a very special opening,” he says. “Expect everything.” Hyde Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Maureen Peckman Keeps Memories Alive
Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health is making a difference.
December 06, 2011
The Frank Gehry-designed Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health has brought much attention to Downtown
In four short years, Cleveland Clinic Nevada’s chief emerging business officer, Maureen Peckman, has overseen the construction of one of Las Vegas’s most anticipated new medical advancement centers and negotiated the marriage of Keep Memory Alive with Cleveland Clinic, its chosen medical partner. The thriving Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health at Symphony Park has been fully operational since mid 2010.
Raising money for the fight against Alzheimer’s disease and memory disorders, Keep Memory Alive was cofounded by local philanthropist and Southern Wine & Spirits senior managing director Larry Ruvo in the mid ’90s. Its annual Power of Love fundraiser has since raised more than $100 million for the cause. Both the organization and Nevada scored a big win when the prestigious Cleveland Clinic partnered with Ruvo to open a new facility here—named after his father, who passed away from Alzheimer’s disease—as the high-ranking clinic is renowned and only operates in a few select cities worldwide.
Keep Memory Alive now functions as the center’s charitable arm with its dedicated Keep Memory Alive Events Center space, with Ruvo still serving as chairman of the board. “We have early detection, diagnosis, ongoing treatment, and research and caregiver services,” Peckman says. “All of our doctors are highly specialized in this area of neurocognitive [disorders]. This model, in terms of the specialization of physicians, the size and scope of our services, and the space that we have, doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.”
Peckman was first brought on board at Keep Memory Alive in 2007, when Ruvo was looking for someone to manage the completion of the $80 million construction project and direct its operational growth.
“My job is to look ahead 20 years and envision this as a western US campus for the Cleveland Clinic,” she says. “We focus on brain health today, but in 2025, we will have heart and digestive disorders, neurology, pediatrics, and autism.” Additionally, Peckman helps with venture capitalist fundraising, healthcare policy, and bringing new medical lines to Las Vegas.
Despite her prominent position, Peckman loves taking phone calls, speaking with patients and families whom the center helps. “At the Cleveland Clinic, that’s our culture,” she says. “I don’t care how big of a title you’ve got or where you are at in your station in life, we all need each other.”
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JEFF GALE
Get to Know: Curtis Stone
The Australian chef-turned-television-host shares his view of Vegas.
May 27, 2011
The best thing about Vegas is: It’s one of my favorite places in the world.
The one thing you don't know about me is: I actually love to gamble, and I think I’m quite good at it.
The place I was dying to hit when I arrived here was: Mix at Mandalay Bay. The bar has an incredible view.
I may be from Australia but Vegas is: Where I chose to host my 30th birthday.
My ideal dinner is: Somewhere quiet with beautiful French food, nice wine and my girl.
My first impression of Vegas was: A bloody good one. I went with my best mate when I was 26 years old. Within 20 minutes, on the way to our room, we’d won a month’s rent at the blackjack table.
My favorite Vegas memory is: Flying over the Grand Canyon with my friends and family all dressed in costume and behaving badly.
Vegas is strangely like Australia because: The sun always shines, and the people love cold beer.
Curtis Stone is the host of Top Chef Masters on Bravo.
Questions With: George Eads
The CSI star dishes on Sin City.
April 11, 2011
The best thing about Vegas is: The atmosphere of decadence. Sounds like a rock album.
Do you gamble? I’ve hit a royal flush on video poker twice for $50K, and I’ve probably won more than $75K over the years. The problem with that is you think you can do it again. So, I’d say I’ve given that back over time.
What do you remember about your first trip to Vegas? My first trip to Vegas was a road trip from Texas Tech with my fraternity brothers. We were barely 21 and broke. I thought it would be a great idea to ride in the open bed of a pickup truck 13 hours to Vegas. Stupid.
What's the best thing about getting out of LA and hitting Vegas? That the plane ride is up, and down. You can barely finish your beer.
Vegas: love or hate? I hate that I love it so much!
One thing you've always meant to do in Vegas but haven't? Ride the Stratosphere roller coaster!
Were you queasy about blood and bodies before CSI? No. But the crime scene and everything is fake. I’ve shared a cigarette with an actor whose neck was slit on more than one occasion.