John Knott, man behind major Las Vegas Strip deals, dies at 62

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John Knott, a Las Vegas real estate broker who sold numerous well-known properties on or near the Strip, died early Friday.

He was 62 and had metastatic pancreatic cancer. He died at home in his sleep around 12:30 a.m., his daughter Katherine Knott said.

He joined the commercial real estate brokerage firm now known as CBRE Group in 1999 and had led its global gaming group since 2003.

“John Knott, whose larger-than-life personality and imprint on Las Vegas leaves a larger-than-life legacy, was a force to be reckoned with,” Michael Newman, managing director of CBRE’s Las Vegas office, said in a statement.

He said Knott’s “client list read like a ‘who’s who’ of the world’s leading gaming companies,” adding the veteran broker “was deeply passionate about Las Vegas and remained bullish on the city even throughout the economic downturn.”

In the past few years alone, Knott brokered the sales of the Allegiant Stadium site, the Hard Rock Hotel, the shuttered Lucky Dragon and the former Alon casino site next to Fashion Show mall.

He also shopped the former Fontainebleau around and, before the economy crashed last decade, sold the Sahara and a tract of land across the street for hundreds of millions of dollars apiece.

Las Vegas’ economy is dominated by massive hotel-casinos, but only a handful of brokers in town get hired to sell resorts or vacant land on or near Las Vegas Boulevard. Knott, with partner Michael Parks, appeared the most prolific of the bunch, regularly getting tapped to shop these and other high-priced properties around.

Parks said Friday that Knott hired him in 2002, when he was in his mid-20s. He described Knott as a mentor and friend, a compassionate person who also had a “blunt” personality and was “never shy about giving his opinion or speaking his mind.”

“People appreciated that,” Parks said.

Hard Rock Hotel CEO Richard “Boz” Bosworth, who has known the two brokers for years, said Knott knew the intricacies of casino economics. He was also a “consummate professional” who could understood the emotions of buyers and sellers.

“John just was steady as a rock,” Bosworth said. “He was never fazed.”

Outside of work, Katherine Knott said her father encouraged her and her two sisters to follow their dreams and instilled a sense of adventure in them.

“He was the best dad anyone could ask for,” she said.

He was born in New Jersey and moved to Las Vegas in 1964 at age 7. He went to Western High School, worked in his father’s printing shop and at 21 had a summer job counting cash from table games at the Sands. He moved to Los Angeles and spent about nine months working in a “boiler room,” calling people to buy gold, silver and platinum.

He later decided to give real estate a try and spent 10 years with Cushman & Wakefield in Los Angeles, but he returned to Las Vegas in 1994 after the Northridge earthquake caused $100,000 in damage to his house. He ran his own firm, Sullivan & Knott, before joining the company now known as CBRE.

Las Vegas’ wild real estate bubble was starting to inflate around the time he took charge of the firm’s global gaming group, and like countless others in town, Knott cashed in on the frenzy. In 2007, he sold the Sahara for $345 million and a 26-acre parcel across the street for $444 million.

When the economy crashed, Knott wasn’t spared the carnage. He had teamed up to acquire the Las Vegas National Golf Course in 2007 but saw its value nosedive. Real estate investments in California and Arizona were wiped out, and his brokerage business dried up. To make a living, he started appealing property taxes for casino operators.

The economy slowly regained its footing, and Knott’s team booked several sizable deals in recent years.

He sold the vacant former Alon site for $300 million to Wynn Resorts; 62.5 acres of land to the Oakland Raiders for $77.5 million; the Hard Rock Hotel to flamboyant British billionaire Richard Branson and partners for a reported $500 million; and the shuttered Lucky Dragon for $36 million to Don Ahern, chairman and chief executive of Las Vegas construction-equipment firm Ahern Rentals.

Last October, Knott was supposed to tour the Lucky Dragon but wasn’t feeling well and called his cardiologist. He ended up getting two stents in his heart.

Doctors also found an abnormality in his abdomen area. In April, he learned he had pancreatic cancer.

On June 7, he sent out an email with the subject line “Retirement Party!” He was inviting people for drinks, but he was really announcing that he was dying of cancer.

He decided to forgo chemotherapy treatment, telling the Review-Journal he didn’t want the fatigue that would come with extending his life expectancy by a few months.

“Hopefully, when things get difficult the end will come quickly,” he said in the email.

Knott, who was divorced, is survived by his daughters Allison, Katherine and MaryBeth.

Katherine Knott said that a memorial service is being planned but hasn’t been finalized and that instead of flowers, her family is requesting donations be made to HELP of Southern Nevada.

Contact Eli Segall at esegall@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0342. Follow @eli_segall on Twitter.

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