Selling a relic: Site of failed boom-era tower complex remains on market

A look at the Spanish View Tower site, an abandoned, 15-acre, partially built property in southwest Las Vegas on July 7, 2016.

Jack Woodcock has sold houses, developed office buildings and owned retail properties. But over his four-decade real estate career, he’s never owned anything as big or expensive as his 12-acre hole in the ground in the Las Vegas suburbs.

It’s 40 to 50 feet deep, and down in the pit, a partially built parking garage has an unfinished ramp and rust-streaked, concrete walls and columns sprouting metal reinforcement bars — all out of view from the motorists on the 215 Beltway who drive right past the site.

“It’s pretty amazing when you think of the magnitude of this,” Woodcock said recently when touring the property.

Spanish View Tower

A look at the Spanish View Tower site, an abandoned, 15-acre, partially built property in southwest Las Vegas on July 7, 2016. Launch slideshow »

A broker with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Woodcock owns the former Spanish View Tower development site in the southwest valley. He is trying to sell it for $18.9 million, after a planned sale to a Chinese development group recently fell through, he said.

Southwest Las Vegas has perhaps the most residential and commercial development in the valley, with builders putting up new housing tracts, apartments, warehouses and retail plazas. Land is for sale throughout the area, but Woodcock’s property is different than most, as it comes with a frozen-in-time, boom-era project, complete with abandoned construction trailers and compacted dirt pads for towers that were never built.

Click to enlarge photo

Real estate broker and investor Jack Woodcock at the Spanish View Tower site in southwest Las Vegas on July 7, 2016.

It’s not the only giant hole in the ground in the southwest valley that stems from an aborted high-rise development, and there are other failed, boom-era construction sites still sprinkled around the valley. His listing, however, raises a question: How does someone end up owning a massive hole in the desert?

Woodcock says he sometimes wonders how he wound up in this situation.

“I never dreamed of it, frankly,” he said.

Spanish View Tower, off Buffalo Drive just south of the Beltway, was designed to comprise three 18-story condo towers. But the 15-acre project fizzled when developer Rodney Yanke’s funding reportedly dried up.

Yanke halted construction in mid-2006 — just months after he boasted in a news release that the complex would “surpass anything Las Vegas has seen” and be “the foundation for high-rise living in the western United States.”

All told, Woodcock said he had spent more than $12.5 million in connection with the site, which he acquired through foreclosure in 2012. The fenced-off property has 24-hour security, including cameras, motion-sensors and daily patrols. Unlike other abandoned properties in town, it doesn’t look like people are dumping trash, camping out or causing structural damage there.

“I’ve gone to great lengths to protect this site,” Woodcock said. “I want to protect the value.”

But his security traps can’t stop everything. Several concrete slabs have been covered with stylish, multicolored yet unwanted graffiti. “Twerk It!” says one spray-painted message.

All of the graffiti was sprayed around the same time last year, according to Woodcock, with nothing before or since.

“It’s almost like somebody came to town and did it, then left,” he said.

Spanish View was one of dozens of condo-tower projects that investors pursued during Las Vegas’ wild real estate bubble last decade. Supporters called the high-rise boom the “Manhattanization” of Las Vegas, though ultimately, most of the planned towers weren’t built.

Woodcock put millions into Yanke’s project starting in early 2006. The bubble was still inflating and the economy was roaring, but Spanish View was facing mounting financial problems.

According to Woodcock, a lending agent who was supposedly arranging funding stopped answering phone calls, and contractors weren’t getting paid. Woodcock had known Yanke for 20 years and said they were friends. Yanke had built custom homes over the years, but he “never developed anything of this size.”

Woodcock said he initially lent about $4.5 million. He drove to the site every other day to check on the work, but it “became obvious pretty quickly that things were not looking good.” Soon enough, Yanke called to say he had stopped construction.

Creditors filed court papers in spring 2007 to force the project into bankruptcy, claiming they were owed $36.5 million. In a court filing a few months later, Yanke claimed the project had roughly $107 million in liabilities and $91 million in assets.

Yanke had bought the project site in late 2004 for $2.8 million, Clark County records indicate, and he put about $30 million worth of work into the property, Woodcock said. In the court filing, however, Yanke valued the site at $90 million.

His company’s other listed assets included a 2005 Cadillac Escalade, a 2007 Lexus 460 and $1,598.78 spread among seven bank accounts.

Creditors alleged in a court filing that Yanke — whose other ventures included DWG International, which sells “waterless” car-wash products — used project money for luxury cars, his 7,200-square-foot house in Las Vegas, and to pay for a captain for his 55-foot boat, called “Squirt the Dirt,” in Tampa, Fla. When his promises of imminent project financing fell through, he always blamed some kind of “massive fraud” that had been perpetrated against him, the filing claimed.

Efforts to reach Yanke for comment were unsuccessful.

Project lender OneCap Mortgage acquired the property out of bankruptcy in 2009, but Nevada officials revoked its mortgage broker’s license in 2010 and the company filed for bankruptcy that year. Woodcock foreclosed on the site two years later.

His property is unusual, but it’s not unique even in its neighborhood. About a mile away, across from the new Ikea furniture store, the abandoned Sullivan Square project site also is a giant hole in the ground.

During the boom years, developers from Las Vegas and Ireland — an ironic tandem in hindsight, given that Ireland also experienced a massive, doomed real estate bubble — teamed up to build a high-rise project there. Plans called for 1,380 residential units, 45,000 square feet of retail and 272,000 square feet of office space, county records show, but lawsuits started flying and nothing got built.

The Irish partner, Dublin-based Harcourt Developments, still features plans for Sullivan Square on its website. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

The Las Vegas partner, Glen, Smith & Glen Development, appears to be out of business.

Woodcock, meanwhile, said the partially built parking garage at his property could be ripped out and the site filled with dirt. Underground parking, however, is a pricey and not-commonly-offered amenity in Las Vegas, and he figures it’s best to leave it in for now.

It’s not cheap owning a big hole in the ground — Woodcock said he had sold other properties to free up cash to pay its taxes, security and insurance. And even though he puts the odds of another high-rise project there at 50/50, Woodcock figures someone would want the site.

“I think its time will come,” he said.

Real Estate