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