Legendary nonagenarian Jackie Gaughan is looking well as he sits at his usual table with his usual crowd for his usual Monday night dinner at Piero’s. Gaggles of conventioneers, some in business attire and some in jeans, make boisterous noises from nearby tables, hopefully on their corporate expense tabs. A middle-aged couple celebrates a job promotion in a nearby banquette; this is where they always celebrate good news.
None of them know or realize how close they could’ve come to having to find another place for dinner. On paper, the legendary Italian place where many a Mafioso has dipped steamy, crusty bread into a good pasta fagioli should be long gone. There’s no good economic reason why this landmark continues to serve.
There is, however, one really good emotional reason.
“I grew up running around this place,” says Evan Glusman, 32, the son of Freddie Glusman, who opened it in 1982. “Now I have two children, and I hope some day their children will run around this place, too.”
Glusman doesn’t just talk the talk, though. Four years ago, at the height of the Vegas building boom, he was offered eye-popping sums by the Marriott Corporation to hand over the parcels they own just west of Paradise Road on Convention Center Drive. He held out, demanding they build him another Piero’s in Summerlin and one inside whatever megaresort Marriott developed.
At the time, Marriott’s checkbook was wide open. From 2006 until August 2007, the hotel giant spent more than $225 million to acquire 14.4 acres, including what used to be an independent nightclub, The Beach. That’s an average of $15.6 million an acre.
The only two pieces of property Marriott doesn’t own are the Piero’s building and its parking lot. It’s a 0.7-acre rectangle, and Marriott simply will never be able to develop the land without it, as Glusman well knows.
That Glusman-shaped cutout amid Marriott’s holdings on the plat map stood out to me. United Coin representative Rob Woodson told the Gaming Control Board in April that Marriott had plans to build a 3,500-room flagship resort “once the economy picks up again.” Woodson went before the board for approval to open a casino for eight hours on The Beach’s now-empty site because county law requires active gaming on a site for at least one shift every 18 months. Otherwise, the precious zoning on the land for unrestricted gaming expires. Keeping the gaming zoning gives Marriott the ability to build a casino there or makes the property more valuable should the company tire of waiting for a Vegas revival and sell.
Eventually, Marriott stopped pursuing Glusman because they thought better of trying to break ground when it became obvious, from a 2007 vantage point, that the city would have too much hotel capacity by the decade’s end anyway, thanks to the expected debuts of CityCenter, Encore, Palazzo, Cosmo, Echelon and Fontainebleau.
You may think Glusman’s a fool. It would have been just so easy to take the ungodly fistfuls of money at first offer and run. And maybe from that point of view it was a bad decision.
But just think about how many functioning, thriving businesses were shut down and demolished on and around Vegas for the promise of future development that has yet to bear fruit. The brilliant Stardust marquee could still be lit up, beckoning nostalgists and remaining a robust link to a fabulous, bygone era. Wet N Wild and Scandia both could still be thrilling the children of thousands of locals and tourists alike, instead of spending untold years sitting fallow. And the list goes on.
Only Glusman knows for sure why he didn’t take the money and run—a friend joked maybe he was worried about earthmovers digging up the bodies—but it’s clear hanging with him at the restaurant that he’s quite grateful he did.
You see, had Glusman sold out to Marriott on their terms, the restaurant would have been leveled and then become, like so many other plots, a stagnant eyesore. And, much more importantly, more than 70 employees—many of whom have toiled for Piero’s for decades—would have been let go.
And for what? For nothing.