Developer spending millions to halt decay in Las Vegas’ Huntridge area

The Huntridge Shopping Center, 1120 E. Charleston Blvd.

Investor J Dapper’s newly acquired buildings in the Huntridge area of Las Vegas are full of history — concerts, card cheats, vintage signage.

But, he points out, their more recent past includes vandals, vagrants, neglect and the occasional car crashing in.

As for one property: “If you would have walked into that building when I originally bought it, you would have said to yourself, ‘Man, that is a horrible, horrible building.”

Dapper Companies Redevelopment

J Dapper stands inside one of three properties he is redeveloping, 602 S. Maryland Parkway, on November 19, 2015. Launch slideshow »

And another: “If you would have seen this two months ago ... you wouldn’t have wanted to touch anything.”

Dapper, however, plans to spend a few million dollars to get these properties, clustered around the intersection of Maryland Parkway and Charleston Boulevard, thriving again. And he’s hoping other investors do the same in the area.

In the meantime, he also is interested in buying the neighborhood’s namesake: the long-shuttered Huntridge Theatre.

Dapper, head of Dapper Cos., and partners recently bought the 62,000-square-foot Huntridge Shopping Center, at the southwest corner of Maryland and Charleston, for $5.2 million; its tenants include popular dive-bar Huntridge Tavern. They also acquired a vacant 12,000-square-foot retail building and an adjacent residential fourplex at the southwest corner of Maryland Parkway and Bonneville Avenue, for $775,000, and an empty 5,000-square-foot commercial building at 630 S. 11th St. for $415,000.

The Maryland-Charleston area has no shortage of retail customers, but real estate in the area generally is “somewhat tired and needs some refreshment and some kind of investment,” said Michael Dimengo, CEO of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, which moved to a newly renovated, 16,000-square-foot building in the area in 2013.

Homeowners are sprucing up nearby residential sections, Dimengo said, but he hasn’t seen that as much with commercial buildings. Dapper’s investments, he said, “only enhance” the neighborhood’s turnaround.

Dapper — a 38-year-old Las Vegas native whose legal first name is the letter J — said he had nursed other properties back to health.

In 2011, he bought Winterwood Pavilion, a shopping center at Nellis Boulevard and Sahara Avenue. At the time, the east Las Vegas plaza was probably just 25 percent occupied, and there were “tons of homeless, tons of crime,” Dapper said. “A lot of bad things going on.”

Today, he said, it’s almost fully occupied.

Among his new properties, his largest is Huntridge Shopping Center. It’s almost full, with such tenants as the ‘50s-style Hi Rollers Barbershop, discount grocer Save-A-Lot, thrift store Savers and the ‘60s-era Huntridge Pharmacy & Soda Fountain. The center also had a boarded-up, stand-alone restaurant building that was occupied by fast-food chicken eatery Farm Basket and, more recently, Nicaraguan restaurant Doña Norma.

Tenants there, Dapper said, “have been thriving under very bad conditions.”

He planned to demolish the restaurant building, which he said had become a magnet for squatters, and replace it with a two-tenant retail property. He said he was negotiating leases with Dallas-based chain Wingstop and local eatery SkinnyFats. Neither responded to requests for comment.

He plans to chop up the pharmacy’s space to form new storefronts, while putting the drugstore in a smaller space with a drive-thru and likely keeping its rooftop signage in place. He also wants to give more square footage to Hi Rollers, spruce up the shopping center’s facade, install retro-style signage for the plaza and add landscaping and new lighting.

Meanwhile, he’s hired armed security guards to patrol the shopping center and his other new properties in the area.

Those include the empty building on South 11th, former home of the Gambler’s Book Club. Card cheats used to flock to the bookstore while FBI agents supposedly kept watch on them, according to Dapper.

The building, most recently occupied by a church, has been empty for a few years, he said. There is graffiti on the roof, and Dapper said vandals ripped out the copper from the rooftop air-conditioning units.

Renovation work has begun, and he recently removed the front door’s metal bars. An interior-design firm plans to move in, he said.

“Five or six or seven years ago, you wouldn’t even imagine not having bars on the windows,” he said. “But now, things are getting better.”

His other acquisition, the adjacent retail and residential properties, is in rough shape. He plans to tear down the now-empty fourplex (“There’s no possible way to save it; it’s just in such bad condition”) to clear space for parking, and he’s already renovating the retail building. It cost $23,000 alone to remove the asbestos.

Mahoney’s Drum Shop opened there in 1962. It was a place where, according to Dapper, the musicians for the Rat Pack tuned their instruments before playing on the Strip and where concertgoers at Huntridge Theatre bought show tickets.

Today, there is ample graffiti inside, and a driver crashed into a door the same day Dapper closed his purchase. A driver hit another part of the building at some point, too.

The neighborhood’s best-known building, however, is the Huntridge Theatre, and Dapper said he’s interested in buying it. The historic property is by no means spared the neighborhood’s blight. On a recent visit, two homeless men were loitering in the parking lot with shopping carts overflowing with clothes, bags and other belongings. Their dog, leashed to a cart, squatted to defecate in the lot.

Dapper said he had lunch a few months ago with Huntridge owner Eli Mizrachi. According to Dapper, Mizrachi wanted more than $4 million for the ‘40s-era theater, which closed in 2004.

The issue, Dapper said, is “pure economics,” as the property is “a couple million dollars too expensive.”

Mizrachi did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

All told, Dapper plans to put at least $2.5 million worth of work into his new properties. He said other business owners and investors need to keep pumping money into the neighborhood, similar to downtown’s Fremont East district. That area still grapples with vagrants, empty lots and boarded-up buildings, but it’s being revived with new restaurants, retailers and other spending.

Several years ago, "you wouldn't want to be there," Dapper said of Fremont Street.

“Today, there are great things going on,” he said.