Fantasy Land

A proposed project looks like it could bring a winter Wonderland to the Strip. But in Las Vegas, looks can be deceiving.

Illustration by Jesse J. Sutherland

Illustration by Jesse J. Sutherland

In Las Vegas, you’re never quite sure what’s real, what’s fantasy and what’s just wishful speculation. And it’s never possible to tell which is which, until it’s entirely obvious.

The latest real-or-not dream might be Wonderland, a project which purports to bring the charm of winter to 18 acres on the Las Vegas Strip: a cluster of pre-fab faux storefronts decked out in twinkling lights, the sound of sleigh bells ringing, everything dusted in fake snow. Like nothing you’ve ever seen, and everything you’ve ever wanted!

In other words, Opportunity Village’s Magical Forest … amplified to Strip proportions … with none of the local tradition or philanthropic connections.

A brilliantly nostalgic Geocities website—with nonfunctioning Facebook and YouTube links, and contact info “Coming Soon”—was recently replaced with a static page promising “something wonderful” coming to town. Accompanying that message are links to functioning (but uninformative) Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds. Meanwhile, the opening date for Wonderland was pushed from November 25 to December 14.

The media page that was available on that site until mid-November included a PDF packed with a wealth of big dreams (albeit no contact information or identification of 7 Wheel Wonders, the company behind the project). Projecting “gross net profits” (a heretofore unknown statistical category) of $12.3 million, Wonderland was at one time soliciting corporate support, including $1 million of in-kind donations of lumber to actually build the place. But the project wasn’t without heart; local charities were free to buy a Christmas tree (a mere $5,000 for 12 feet of holiday cheer), and Wonderland would provide mailboxes for guests (after they paid $20 to enter) to drop off donations, keeping only 8 percent of all sums given as a “Charity Administration Fee.”

Las Vegas is not unfamiliar with illusory press-release-and-pray-for-funding projects—if you build a website, they will come—but the short timeline on Wonderland makes it an intriguing case to follow: In early November, the Clark County Commission approved a temporary use permit for Wonderland, allowing it to build a “holiday” village that would operate through Valentine’s Day. In an apparent reversal, it was indicated that admission would be free, and daily attendance was estimated at a maximum of 5,000—or less than half the projection of 11,000 average daily visitors initially indicated on the now-disappeared media page.

After the County Commission’s imprimatur, a few major media outlets reported on Wonderland as a done deal. But questions remain. In a media release, Wonderland said Cashman Photo Enterprises would “offer unique portrait opportunities” in the faux village. One problem: When contacted about such a partnership, Art Greene, Cashman’s director of marketing, was completely unfamiliar with Wonderland.

Wonderland Executive Director Jason Feltz, who spoke before the commission, is—if his website and IMDB entry are to be believed—an actor/writer/producer/director and editor of a score of short films produced over the past two years … and no known experience in retail development.

Thus far, no work is apparent on Wonderland’s would-be site, across from Mandalay Bay (in fairness, the county permit mandated that setup couldn’t commence until two weeks prior to the event). No vendors have been announced, no details have been released about how a snow-dusted village will be erected in two weeks, and no call has gone out for employees. Indeed, it seems impossible for prospective vendors or employees to reach the people behind Wonderland, since those people have remained wondrously elusive. (Our repeated attempts to reach representatives from 7 Wheel Wonders were unsuccessful, and an architect who worked on the project would not discuss its details or name his client.)

And still more unsolved mysteries: The now-departed website media page once projected $2.5 million in souvenir sales. Have these souvenirs been fabricated already, or will they appear magically under the tree on December 14? Will all those Santas, elves, porta-potties, faux fur capes and mugs of apple cider (and everything else needed for a “Victorian winter village”) spontaneously assemble on the appointed day? Is this a Christmas secret so magical that the dozens of people who would have to be involved to pull this off have conspired to protect the secret?

Your guesses are as good as ours: Maybe we’ll see you at the village in a couple of weeks. After all, the uncritical acceptance of Wonderland is another sign that Las Vegas—a city built on dreams—isn’t ready to stop believing.