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How Howard Hughes' land gamble turned into the bustling master-planned community of Summerlin - home of the Las Vegas Aviators and Las Vegas Ballpark

If there was a Mount Rushmore for successful American entrepreneurs, there’s little doubt that Howard Hughes’ distinguished features would be among the first to be chiseled into the granite. No matter the industry—aviation, engineering, film, investing, philanthropy—seemingly everything Hughes touched turned to gold.

Despite that impeccable business track record, Hughes’ decision in 1952 to purchase 25,000 acres of barren land way out at the western edge of the Las Vegas Valley had to have been viewed as an unwise (and unwinnable) gamble. After all, Las Vegas’ population in 1952 barely exceeded the number of acres Hughes purchased. And given where most of the city’s residents lived at the time, those acres might as well have been on the moon.


Sure enough, when Hughes chose not to relocate his California businesses to Las Vegas, the piece of the Mojave Desert that he acquired for a whopping $3 per acre remained untouched for 3½ decades. It wasn’t until 1988, some 12 years after Hughes died at the age of 71, that the business he left behind (The Summa Corporation) announced plans to convert most of those 25,000 acres into a master-planned community that would be named after Hughes’ paternal grandmother: Jean Amelia Summerlin.


Although Las Vegas’ population had swelled to more than 200,000 by the late 1980s, miles of desert still stood between the valley’s westernmost boundary and the proposed entry to this new community near Red Rock National Conservation Area. No matter, The Summa Corporation (which later became The Howard Hughes Corporation) was determined to make sure the bet Hughes made back in 1952 would ultimately be a winner. So the bulldozers headed west and Summerlin’s development commenced, with The Meadows School—a private college-prep institution built on donated land—being the first Summerlin structure to open in 1988.


Two years later, Summerlin Parkway—a four-mile stretch of Howard Hughes Corporation-funded roadway—opened to motorists, linking Summerlin with U.S. 95 and the rest of the Las Vegas Valley. While skeptical Southern Nevadans dubbed this new thoroughfare “The Road to Nowhere,” The Hughes Corp. stayed true to its vision, which could best be summed up by a now-famous movie quote:


If you build it, they will come.


And come they have. Since March 1991, when the Champlin family became the master-planned community’s first official residents, Summerlin has become home to more than 110,000 residents who occupy more than 45,000 dwellings spread across 22 villages.

Those residents attend more than two dozen public and private schools, places of worship and cultural facilities; recreate at more than 150 parks, 10 golf courses and four community centers; stroll along a trail system that stretches for more than 150 miles; work at dozens of business parks; shop at multiple retail centers; and enjoy dining and entertainment at countless venues, all stretching across 35 square miles.

Recently, Summerlin welcomed its newest addition to the neighborhood: the Las Vegas Aviators and Las Vegas Ballpark. That both entities now call Summerlin home only makes sense—not just because the team and ballpark are owned by Howard Hughes Corporation, but because both are committed to two core principles: becoming the latest in a long line of Summerlin’s trusted and valued community partners, and offering the kind of affordable, family-friendly entertainment that has come to define this fully-integrated, award-winning community.


Yes, Hughes’ $75,000 investment may have seemed like a blind swing for the fences some 67 years ago. Today? It’s clear the savvy entrepreneur hit yet another home run.

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