|By Howard Stutz, Las Vegas
Review-JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 1, 2009 - BEATTY -- Depending on whom you speak with, Ed Ringle is either this rural community's 21st century version of Don Laughlin, or the town's pariah.
Since the early 1980s, Ringle, 57, has operated a casino, hotels and other businesses in Beatty, which is about 118 miles north of downtown Las Vegas. He now is the town's only casino operator, having acquired and closed the competition over the past few years.
Earlier this decade he built Eddie World, which holds a large gasoline station, convenience store and the Death Valley Nut & Candy Co. The complex is on the north end of Beatty along U.S. Highway 95 next to his Stagecoach Hotel & Casino.
Now, Ringle wants to create a whole new town.
On 27 acres across from the Stagecoach, Ringle is mapping out El Sueño, what he calls the first fully themed Spanish-speaking hotel-casino that caters to the family market.
The resort, which would include a 400-room to 500-room high-rise hotel tower, 30,000 square feet of gaming space, and indoor and outdoor water parks, would be the initial piece of his conceptual Oasis Valley development. Beatty, which is in Nye County, is at the southern end of the region known geographically as Oasis Valley.
Ringle spent seven years piecing together and acquiring water rights for land parcels that total almost 200 acres. His vision includes a master-planned housing community, two hotel-casinos and the beginnings of a greenbelt and walking trails system that help preserve some of the area's foliage and wildlife.
The first step is El Sueño and Ringle needs to finish the plans for the project. A giant sign and electronic reader board marquee have been constructed on the site to keep Ringle's thoughts on the development.
"I have a tendency to get off-course sometimes," Ringle said of the Striplike sign designed and built by Eric Grundy. "So I figured if I bought a big sign, it would keep me focused."
Over the past 12 months, the national economic recession has killed developments less elaborate than Oasis Valley and El Sueño. Hotel-casino projects in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and regional gaming markets around the country have been stalled or scrapped for lack of available funding. MGM Mirage is still trying to complete the final piece of financing for the $9.1 billion CityCenter development.
So what makes Ringle believe he can attract financing for a project in rural Nevada that doesn't yet have a price?
"Forget about the fact of raising money," said Ringle, who said he has built all his other projects out of existing cash flow from the Stagecoach and other businesses. El Sueño, he says, is different.
"When we came here in the 1980s, we had no experience building casinos. We were more of a long shot back then," said Ringle, who has a state contractor's license. "We're going to do this. I'm confident we will."
In English, El Sueño translates to The Dream, which is pretty much where the project stands. Ringle opened a sales office in Costa Rica and was expected to return to the Central American republic shortly to finish laying out the site plans and complete the project's conceptual drawings.
So far, El Sueño is nothing more than a vision for a rural Nevada plot of land marked by the leave-behinds from Beatty's wild burro population.
Envisioning El Sueño is not a challenge for Ringle. He has a gift of language and imagination that seems to channel some of Las Vegas' historically flamboyant casino developers. At times, Ringle is part Steve Wynn and part Jay Sarno, with a little bit of P.T. Barnum folded in.
Ringle stood in front of a dramatic rock formation and said an outdoor restaurant and nightclub would be constructed with the earthen feature as the backdrop. On the opposite end of the acreage, Ringle described a 76,000-square-foot indoor water park that would rival some of the attractions at Wisconsin Dells.
The restaurants, he said, would come straight out of Latin America. He said the idea is to bring in eateries not found anywhere in the United States.
"Beatty is a tremendously overlooked area," Ringle said. "We're three miles from a natural hot springs. We have a ghost town (Rhyolite). We're 10 miles from a national park and we have the sand dunes and horseback riding. We have a cornucopia of activities available to us. We just haven't exploited them. We will with this project."
Ringle will have to accomplish his task without the support of Beatty's town officials.
Mike Lasorsa, a 30-year resident of Beatty who is chairman of the Town Advisory Board, said Ringle isn't going to win many awards from community leaders. The board has not seen any plans for El Sueño and doesn't believe it will.
"Legally, I'm not sure he has to (bring any plans before the board)," Lasorsa said. "Ed just does what he wants until somebody stops him. He's been pretty progressive in this town and he's sunk a lot of money into Beatty. He's provided many jobs, but I don't think he's well-liked."
Some of the heartburn might stem from how Ringle eliminated the competition. He bought the old Exchange Club casino, which dominated the town's main intersection since its inception. He closed the casino, which now houses a hardware store, but kept the 44 hotel rooms operating.
Ringle also bought the Burro Inn casino at the south end of Beatty. The casino was closed and razed, but the 65 hotel rooms were remodeled. The site was renamed the Death Valley Inn. A few years ago, Ringle built a 69-room Motel 6 next to the Stagecoach, which operates 80 rooms.
As far as casino action the Stagecoach has 185 slot machines and five table games.
Between the nongaming hotels, the Stagecoach and Eddie World, Ringle employs 109 people. Beatty had roughly 1,000 citizens at the last census, but estimates now place the population at between 800 and 900.
Keith Kearns, general manager of Stagecoach, whose job duties not only include managing Ringle's businesses, but keeping his boss on one train of thought at a time, likened him to Don Laughlin, who turned a small bait shop along the Colorado River into Laughlin, which produced $571 million in gaming revenue in 2008.
"Eddie has been fighting this town for 25 years," Kearns said. "Beatty doesn't want to change, so we'll create Oasis Valley. That will be the new entity."
Rick Dopkis, a former Las Vegas casino executive who was brought in to design the gaming aspect of El Sueño, compared Ringle to Si Redd, the founder of slot machine giant International Game Technology, who brought the first casinos to Mesquite. Dopkis spent several years working for Wynn Las Vegas.
"I'll think the markets will loosen up by the time we're ready to go out for financing," he said.
Ringle said he may seek funding with Latin American investors interested in a development marketed toward Hispanics.
In the end, Ringle will have to deal with Nye County. He's already been fined for grading the El Sueño site without a dust permit, said Richard Johnson, the county's manager for both building safety and the floodplain.
Johnson said Nye County officials will have to sign off on the development.
"I don't think he has any plans or money," Johnson said. "I think he's trying to attract attention to get money. It seems like he has a different concept every week."
NATURE CONSERVANCY BACKS CASINO PLAN
BEATTY -- Ed Ringle's plans to develop El Sueño and the surrounding land may run into opposition from town leaders and Nye County. But he found one unorthodox supporter -- The Nature Conservancy.
The national nonprofit conservation organization is working with Ringle to develop a greenbelt system that will protect some endangered species native to the Oasis Valley. Part of the land that Ringle acquired north of the El Sueño site contains the original water source for the town of Beatty. He also purchased the ranch site of Montillus Beatty, the town's namesake.
James Moore of The Nature Conservancy said the organization has been trying to persuade the town board to design a greenbelt system since 1995. The organization tried to acquire the property, but couldn't meet the asking price.
The land contains the natural springs that are the beginning of the Amargosa River. Two of the species being saved are the Amargosa toad and the Oasis Valley speckled dace, a minnowlike fish.
"Ed is the only person willing to do something bold," Moore said. "He has the resources to do it. He was willing to design a wetlands system that will fit in with El Sueño."
The goal is to keep the water along a stream flowing above ground. Ringle had construction crews dig a trench that brings water from the springs to both sides of U.S. Highway 95.
Ringle agreed not to design a golf course as part of his Oasis Valley development.
"We don't really like golf," he said.
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