Vegas Connection: The underdog in the parking garage fight turns greedy

The story of Carol and Harry Pappas and the small piece of downtown real estate the city ripped from their hands in the name of eminent domain had all the ingredients of a classic Little Guys-Against-the-System tale.

It was the kind of scenario Hollywood might have taken a shine to, one that pitted a mean old mayor, scheming City Council and greedy casino titans against an older woman and her devoted son. After eight long years of bitter fighting, the ultimate sunny ending: A new political regime takes over City Hall, the mother and son are wildly compensated and they all live happily ever after.

At least for now, you can scrap that idea, C.B.

As of Friday, the happy ending was placed on hold. The script now reads like the sequel to "Dumb & Dumber," with the Pappas clan in the title roles. Some people become so identified with the fight that they refuse to accept victory. That might be what has happened to the Pappases.

In a move that eroded whatever tenuous credibility - and favorable public sentiment - they might have possessed, the Pappas family rejected the city's exorbitant settlement offer of what sources say was an elephant-choking $4.5 million, including attorney fees.

Mayor Oscar Goodman, who departed from normal political procedure to handle the Pappas negotiations personally, was infuriated by what he called a lack of good faith and candor on the part of the litigants. He immediately ceased negotiating and began hitting the Pappas clan in the press.

On Monday, Harry Pappas sounded defensive as he attempted to explain his side of rejecting a multimillion-dollar offer over what amounted to a questionable loss of $120,000 in revenue from a family-owned parking lot that suffered in the wake of the opening of the Fremont Street Experience red garage.

"It just seems to me to take a four-plus million-dollar deal after eight years and all this, to finally get to this position, you've got a difference of only $100,000, and throw the whole deal away just doesn't seem logical," Pappas said. "I don't know where we're at at this point."

I'll tell you where you're at, Harry: Palookaville. You look like a mope. Make that a greedy mope.

Through none of your own doing, you found an advocate at City Hall in the form of Goodman. The city attorney's office, which had already grown tired of your antics, was prepared to go to the wall to fight you, but Goodman softened everyone up. He was so eager to resolve the protracted battle between your family and the city, one which began with the previous mayor, that he jumped into the middle of the pigpen himself.

Your deal with the city is even sweeter than the jackpot the city previously heaped upon former U.S. Sen. Chic Hecht for his downtown property. And your property isn't worth as much.

The worst part of it is this: The breakdown is over something that wasn't part of the negotiations - the hard-to-prove loss of income from the family's parking lot at Sixth and Carson.

Even Pappas admitted as much.

"There's absolutely no proof that it was malicious," Pappas admitted. "Well, we know that it was. You can't really prove it, other than their actions did it."

Even if that's true, it doesn't prevent the family from seeking compensation in a separate action. The settlement pertains only to the property taken through eminent domain.

When Pappas attempted to portray his family's fight in populist terms, it rang hollow.

"I don't know what we're going to do at this point," Pappas said. "Goodman sounds pretty recalcitrant at this time.

"We could settle, but it doesn't do any good to anybody in this city when the city goes to use eminent domain again. When they start eminent-domaining other people, there will be more of it in the future."

The Little Guy as martyr stuff isn't working this time. A $4.5 million deal changes all that.

So why not take the check and celebrate? Some guys don't know when to declare victory and go home.

If you're not careful, Harry, some scriptwriter will take a look at your family's tale of woe and come up with the sequel to "Greed."

John L. Smith's column appears Wednesdays in the Nevada Appeal. Reach him at Smith@lvrj.com. or 383-0295.

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