|By Benjamin Spillman, Las Vegas
Review-JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 7, 2008 - There's room for two Plaza hotels in Las Vegas.
That's the verdict a jury dished out Monday in a trademark case pitting owners of the Plaza downtown against owners of the Plaza Hotel in New York City, who want to build a replica of their luxurious East Coast property on the former site of the New Frontier.
Tamares Las Vegas Properties, owners of the downtown Plaza, sought to block Elad Group from using the Plaza name because Tamares officials think the presence of two Plazas will create confusion in the market.
Tamares also asked for $29.4 million because, lawyers argued, the proposal for a Plaza on the Strip set back plans to renovate the downtown Plaza by about a year. The money represented projected lost profit.
The jury didn't buy it.
"We didn't really think it would have much of an impact at all," said jury foreman Michael Snyder of Las Vegas. "Their customer bases would be vastly different."
The unanimous ruling by an eight-person jury was the culmination of a lawsuit Tamares instigated in August 2007 -- a few months after Elad spent $1.2 billion to buy the New Frontier and announced plans for a $6 billion resort.
The crumbling of the American economy and frozen global credit markets disrupted plans for a grandiose, Las Vegas version of the historic New York Plaza.
But nothing thawed relations between Liechtenstein-based Tamares and Israel-based Elad, and the legal case hit the courtroom of Clark County Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez.
After about three weeks of testimony and courtroom wrangling, the case went to a jury Friday afternoon.
The verdict, delivered at about 1 p.m. Monday, was exactly what Elad officials wanted to hear.
Within minutes the company issued a statement praising the verdict and announcing it would begin construction on the Strip in the spring of 2010 -- although the statement didn't say how Elad planned to finance the project.
"Our victory is based on the abiding strength of The Plaza brand and we are very pleased by the jury's decision affirming our rights," Elad President Miki Naftali said in the statement.
An Elad spokesman declined to answer any follow-up questions.
Tamares also issued a statement saying company officials were disappointed by the ruling.
"We continue to believe that we have exclusive rights to the name that has been in use by our Plaza Hotel & Casino in downtown Las Vegas for 37 years," Tamares U.S. Real Estate Chief Operating Officer Kenneth Landfield wrote. Landfield also declined to answer follow-up questions.
But during court arguments, Tamares attorney Dennis Kennedy paraphrased Landfield's thoughts on the subject for the jury.
Kennedy said Landfield worried a fancy resort on the Strip with the Plaza name would push the downtown Plaza from the public consciousness, especially considering the downtown Plaza is already known as a discount property with cheap booze, cheap rooms and cheap food.
"I can't be known as the old Plaza, I can't be the cheap Plaza, I can't be the bad Plaza," Kennedy told the jury.
Attorneys from both sides made claims to the Plaza name based on history.
Kennedy said photos and promotional merchandise dating back to 1971 when the downtown Plaza opened proved the hotel's claim.
Elad attorney Steve Morris said the New York Plaza sought and received a trademark on the Plaza name in 1986, and had used the nameplate as far back as 1906.
In the end, the jury ruled Elad had a stronger claim.
Snyder said that the downtown Plaza used other names, such as Union Plaza and Jackie Gaughan's Plaza, for much of its lifetime worked against Tamares.
The jury foreman also said no one in the jury room feared the result would harm the downtown Plaza.
"It might do them some good," Snyder said. "If more people come to visit, it is good for everybody's customer base."
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