Harrah's estate in Reno selling for $75 million

2:04 PM, Jul 16, 2010   |    comments
From Reno Gazette-Journal
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By Jason Hidalgo

Got $75 million burning a hole in your pocket?

That puts you in the running to get a slice - make that a huge slice - of Nevada history as John Harrah puts up his sprawling Rancharrah property for sale.

To put that price in perspective, the next most expensive listing in Reno-Sparks is a property on Reno's Lausanne Drive worth nearly $3.9 million. In fact, if you want to find another listing in the area that tops Rancharrah's price, you'd have to go somewhere like Lake Tahoe, where a 38,000-square foot French Provincial-style property named "Tranquility" is listed at $100 million and currently pegged as the third most expensive listing in the country.

Then again, Rancharrah isn't your typical "residence."

On 150 acres in Reno, the 26,000-square-foot main house is dwarfed only by the legacy of the man who once called the estate home, William Fisk Harrah. That would be the same Bill Harrah who founded the Harrah's chain of hotels and casinos and endowed the auto museum.

Harrah bought the property from the "Duke of Nevada" himself, Henry Biltz, in 1957, said Jean Merkelbach, broker-owner of Distinctive Homes Sotheby's International Realty.

In 1991, Bill Harrah's son, John Harrah, bought the property from the family trust. Although John Harrah's original intent was to restore the main house to its original 1934 state, a large amount of decay forced him to tear down the original home.

Harrah then built the current house using the floor plans from the original property while also throwing in some Neo Classical, Roman and Greek touches to the mix. Completing the main residence, "Camelot," to its current form took about nine years.

In the process, Harrah upgraded the estate and turned it into one of the best equestrian properties in the nation, featuring a cutting horse breeding and training facility, several arenas and a full-service veterinary room. Rancharrah also features a private nine-hole golf course, several ponds, a photography studio and five smaller residences.

At the peak of the recent housing bubble, Harrah was offered $100 million for the property but declined to sell. Since then, Merkelbach cited a change in lifestyle as the reason for Harrah's decision to sell the property while real estate is down.

"Mr. Harrah is not using the property anymore," Merkelbach said. "His passion has since moved to his racing venture, Exotic Engine. So the ranch isn't being used to its full potential right now."

There are likely two kinds of potential buyers for the property, according to Merkelbach. One would keep Rancharrah as a private estate but also take advantage of its equestrian facilities. A second potential buyer would be a commercial developer who can turn Rancharrah into some form of private enterprise.

"Each property requires a well thought out marketing strategy and Rancharrah is no exception," Merkelbach said. "The value is different for an end user than it would be for a developer but it's easily justifiable for both."

So far, the property has generated interest from some potential buyers, including international queries, since being listed just a few weeks ago. Given Rancharrah's multimillion-dollar price and the current state of the real estate market, establishing a broad reach is key in order to successfully sell the property, according Merkelbach.

At the same time, the property still has special meaning to Harrah, who expects any potential owner of the property to treasure Rancharrah as well.

"The new owner is one who will honor the land, the history of Rancharrah and all that (it) offers," Merkelbach said. " I am not selling a house, I am selling a lifestyle and a proud part of Reno's history."

Reno Gazette-Journal

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