Posted on: September 8, 2023, 08:00h.
Last updated on: September 6, 2023, 04:43h.
EDITOR’S NOTE: “Vegas Myths Busted” publishes new entries every Monday, with a bonus Flashback Friday edition. Today’s entry in our ongoing series originally ran on Aug. 12, 2022.
“This is urban flooding in Las Vegas!” reports a shocked visitor holding his cellphone camera at a fast-moving torrent of ankle-deep water. “It’s coming out of the parking garage at the Linq Hotel!”
When flooding inundated Las Vegas two weeks ago, 7 of 10 YouTube videos used the scene at the Linq garage to illustrate its severity, including Fox News and the New York Post clips.
That’s because what few Las Vegas tourists know is that the Linq garage was actually designed to flood.
Hell or High Water
In 1959, the Flamingo Capri Motel opened on a concrete overhang above a water feature the motel advertised as a “Venetian canal.”
It was actually an open flood channel called the Flamingo Wash. A branch of the Las Vegas Wash — a 12-mile arroyo feeding most of Las Vegas Valley’s overflow stormwater into Lake Mead — the Flamingo Wash collects rainfall from as far away as the Spring Mountains 60 miles west.
On July 3, 1975, the Thursday before the Fourth of July holiday weekend, a summer monsoon triggered a flash flood overflowing the Flamingo Wash. Raging waters trashed 300 cars in the Caesars Palace parking lot. Some were found miles away.
In today’s dollars, the damage was estimated at $25 million.
To reduce the risk of recurrence, two years later, the Flamingo Wash was funneled into man-made tunnels underneath Interstate 15, Caesars Palace, and Las Vegas Blvd. But Flamingo Capri owner Ralph Engelstad had already built the foundation for a 19-story tower and parking structure precisely where one of the tunnels now emptied.
To dig deeply enough to continue that tunnel underground, all construction on what was to become the Imperial Palace would have had to have been torn down and redone.
Instead, Engelstad’s engineers came up with an unconventional solution. They made the first floor of the Imperial Palace garage function as a diversion channel. Stormwater gurgles up from the underground tunnel and into the parking garage whenever flooding occurs. Then it heads across the first floor and into a duct behind the ramp that whisks it back underground.
Visitors have no reason to suspect the parking garage’s secondary function whenever flooding doesn’t occur — which in the desert is 99% of the time.
Engelstad’s solution wasn’t a very good one. In 1983, an 8-foot wall of water gushed through the garage. It swept away 10 cars, muddied more than 20 ground-floor rooms and the casino floor, and chased 500 gamblers onto Las Vegas Boulevard. In 2004, two men had to be rescued by firefighters after their car stalled in flood water behind the garage, the same spot where six more people had to be rescued in 2017.
But generally, only parking operations get affected. The garage closes to the public whenever a flood is predicted, and all first-floor cars are removed. Once the rain stops, the floodwaters recede, and it’s back to business as usual. The stranding of guests on the garage’s upper floors for a few hours is the worst that usually happens.
No Better Solution
While the system is hardly optimal, according to a 2010 Las Vegas Review-Journal article, the Clark County Regional Flood Control District determined that it was impossible to install a better one without weakening the foundation of the Imperial Palace.
When Harrah’s Entertainment acquired the hotel in 2005, then-chairman Gary Loveman told investors it might be imploded to expand adjacent properties. This could have ended the ever-flooding parking garage once and for all. But then the Great Recession hit, and the debt-plagued company opted to build the Linq over the old bones of the Imperial Palace instead.
To this day, whenever the Clark County Regional Flood Control District predicts a big storm, its first warning call goes to the Linq. Not because it’s in danger of flooding, but because it’s supposed to.
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