- Associated Press - Friday, July 10, 2015

LAS VEGAS (AP) - During the housing bubble, a pair of investors set out to build suburban-style housing next to Searchlight’s airport, a planned subdivision of aviation geeks in a tiny, rural town with double-wides and abandoned mines.

They built roads and installed street signs and utilities but, during the recession, fought in court and lost the site to lenders before building any homes.

Now, the site has been sold at a steep discount — but the new owners aren’t completely sure what to do with it all.

Bill and Joan Turnbull of Seattle bought the roughly 40-acre property — off U.S. 95 at the southern edge of Searchlight, about 60 miles south of Las Vegas — out of foreclosure for $400,000.

The sale closed May 19, property records show.

“It was a deal that we really couldn’t pass up,” Bill Turnbull said.

They got a large chunk of land at a rock-bottom price — in a remote town with few sources of commerce. Still, the sale is part of a recent tally of deals in Searchlight and could spark new life for a long-abandoned property that fell into disrepair.

The Turnbulls own RC Aerodyne in Kent, Washington, a company that sells remote-control helicopters and airplanes, some of which are 6 feet long and cost a few thousand dollars. Most customers are active or retired pilots.

The couple, who visit Las Vegas often, had been looking in Southern Nevada’s outlying towns for a place to build a landing strip. Searchlight, an unincorporated outpost with about 500 residents, is a roughly 15-mile drive from Lake Mohave and 40 miles from Laughlin.

They learned about the property after seeing an ad online by broker Fred Marik to buy the bulk of Searchlight’s commercial properties, including the Searchlight Nugget Casino, El Rey Motel and a residential building known as the bunkhouse, which houses casino workers and used to be a brothel.

Marik, of Las Vegas Commercial & Business Sales, told them about another listing he had — the failed Searchlight airpark. The property had been listed for $795,000.

The Turnbulls, who had never been to Searchlight, visited the site and made an offer by the next day.

They don’t have “hard and fast plans” for the property but are thinking of holding product demonstrations or other events where remote-control enthusiasts can fly aircraft, Bill Turnbull said.

He and his wife are considering building a house for themselves at the site. Bill Turnbull also is leaning toward developing the paved, house-less neighborhood, but added that his wife wants to give home sites to relatives.

“This isn’t a real organized plan we’ve got here,” he said.

Searchlight’s most famous son is Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, though by all measures it’s a speck of a town. As of last year, it had no doctor’s offices or grocery stores and boasted only two restaurants — McDonald’s and the Nugget’s in-house restaurant. Most residents live in mobile homes.

As recently as the 1950s, one of the biggest industries there was prostitution, with 13 brothels at one point, according to Reid’s book “Searchlight: The Camp That Didn’t Fail.” Reid’s mother did laundry for the bordellos.

But the Turnbulls’ purchase came as the Herbst family’s JETT Gaming reached a deal to buy the Nugget for an undisclosed amount and as Nevada Milling and Mining explores for gold in the Opal Mountains north of town, an effort that could revive the industry that made Searchlight boom in the early 1900s.

Searchlight’s airport consists of a mile-long runway and some parking but no terminals or control tower. The airpark was originally developed by Taylor Emanuel, the airport’s former volunteer manager, and business partner Richard Jones.

Clark County commissioners in 2005 approved a zoning change for their project. Plans called for a 32-lot single-family housing subdivision, as well as 24 aircraft hangars ranging from about 1,500 to 4,000 square feet, county records show.

Emanuel and Jones obtained a $3.16 million construction loan from the former Desert Community Bank, hired contractors, paved roads and installed electrical boxes and fire hydrants.

But in March 2010, after the recession hit, Emanuel sued Jones in Clark County District Court, alleging they were “deadlocked” and behind on their mortgage and lease payments. In the suit, Emanuel said the property “needs to be sold” and creditors “need to be paid,” and he sought a court order to appoint a receiver and dissolve their development company.

Later that year, he added Desert Community Bank successor Bank of Las Vegas as a target of his lawsuit. He alleged the bank had “conspired” with Jones to take charge of the project and “expel Emanuel from his interests” in the company, court records show.

Bank of Las Vegas foreclosed on the property in 2011. The site was valued at $370,000 at the time, according to court records.

A year later, District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez ruled the bank was owed more than $2 million. Emanuel appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court, which in May upheld Gonzalez’s ruling.

David Winterton, Emanuel’s attorney in the case, said “nobody won” and that it was a “sad situation.” The bank lost money, Emanuel filed for bankruptcy and the property plunged in value.

“If everyone would have had better communication and worked together, it really could have been a very successful project,” he said.

Emanuel now lives “back East,” Winterton said. Efforts to reach Emanuel for comment were unsuccessful.

Attempts to get comment from attorneys who represented Jones and the bank — now known as Talmer West Bank — in the case also were unsuccessful.

Parts of the airpark fell into rough shape. By 2011, the airport runway was “in disrepair and deteriorating” because the developers were in default and facing foreclosure, according to county documents. On a visit last year, street signs had been knocked down and some were bent, and the runway was cracked and sprouting shrubs.

The Turnbulls’ property includes a small portion of the runway, the rest of which is owned by the U.S. government. Bill Turnbull said he’ll stay within his section and that work crews need to remove weeds and coat the runway.

“It’s gonna be a big job just to get it back in shape again,” he said.


Information from: Las Vegas Sun, https://www.lasvegassun.com

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