A longtime Las Vegan aims to revitalize Showboat land with affordable housing

Amador “Chi Chi” Bengochea, owner of Bentar Development, gives a tour of a clubhouse, under construction at the Showboat Park Apartments, Tuesday, July 28, 2020. The apartment complex is a Bentar Development project along Fremont Street between Oakey Boulevard and Atlantic Street.

Amador Bengochea remembers riding past the old Showboat Hotel and Casino along Fremont Street every day on his way to Bishop Gorman High School.

Back then, the Showboat—which was nestled south of Charleston Boulevard and just west of what’s now Interstate 515—was a favorite gathering spot for Las Vegas locals.

Construction at Showboat Park Apartments

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“We’d drive up Fremont Street, make a left at Oakey and go to school,” says Bengochea, known by the nickname “Chi Chi” to most. “I knew the Showboat was the place where locals like to go; at least that was certainly my impression back then. A lot of people liked to go bowling there. It was well-maintained. There’s a lot of history there.”

Opened in 1954, the Showboat—later rebranded as Castaways—was ultimately demolished in 2006, leaving some 30 acres of vacant land in a largely forgotten section of town.

Bengochea, owner of the Bentar Development construction firm, has plans to change that with a 344-unit apartments complex that will include nine acres of commercial development—complete with a gas station, grocery store, storage facility and a possible medical clinic—along Fremont Street.

Bengochea and his wife, Dorothy, bought the 25-acre plot of land from Station Casinos a few years ago. Station kept five acres from the original Showboat footprint—a plot that remains zoned for unrestricted gaming.

Bengochea, who has begun construction, says he plans to start pre-leasing for the Showboat Park Apartments later this year. The project, which is expected to cost close to $40 million, could be finished before next summer.

“For my wife and I, this was an opportunity to provide a much-needed community project,” Bengochea says. “I felt like there was a big need for economically priced workforce housing. We’re going to cater to culinary people, construction workers, Downtown workers, Zappos people. … They want to live where they work. There aren’t that many options for them, but with this, they’ll get that opportunity.”

Bengochea expects to make money on the development, but he says that hasn’t been the driving force behind the venture.

Bengochea arrived in Las Vegas from Miami with his family as a young boy in the mid-1960s. His father, Arturo, emigrated to the U.S. from Cuba not long before that. Arturo Bengochea, who died more than a decade ago, worked for years as a blackjack dealer at the Showboat.

“In deciding to come to Las Vegas, my dad was the smartest man on the planet,” says Bengochea, who graduated from Gorman in 1980. “This was a land of opportunity for him and for our family. We were able to go to Catholic schools and meet a lot of people. I’ve never wanted to leave Las Vegas.”

The gated community, Bengochea says, will include an on-campus pool, a covered playground area, a basketball court and soccer fields, a fitness area and a 10,000-square-foot clubhouse complete with conference room and kitchen.

Each apartment—the community will be a collection of two-story buildings—will have its own private entrance, and a series of hot spots around the property will allow residents to stay connected to their own Wi-Fi network.

Bengochea says he wants to make sure it’s a well-lit community. He adds that it was also important to have washers and dryers in every apartment. “We’re going the extra mile to make these apartments nice,” Bengochea says.

Rents will start at $950 per month and go up to around $1,400 for a three-bedroom unit. Apartments will feature from 430 to 1,100 square feet of space. It’s much-needed development for an area near Downtown that lacks quality housing options, especially a new build.

“We’re a very mature ward, and we don’t see these types of projects happening to this magnitude,” Ward 3 Councilwoman Olivia Diaz says. “It’s going to bring much-needed housing and revitalization to our ward. Those of us who grew up in that area remember Showboat and Castaways, but that parcel has been empty there for so long.”

Bentar has been built numerous projects over the years in the Valley, including gas stations, restaurants, office buildings and VIP lounges at Bellagio and Mirage. Bengochea also completed an improvement project at Gorman, which he says holds special meaning because of the school’s impact on his life.

At least one notable businessman came through Bishop Gorman during Bengochea’s era—his graduating classmate, billionaire businessman Frank Fertitta III, CEO of Station Casinos and chairman of its board of directors.

“A lot of my classmates are doctors or lawyers. We built some of their offices. My family and I have been blessed,” Bengochea says. “With this project, I just hope people will recognize that this is living proof of what can happen along Fremont Street.”


This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.