By Howard T. Brody

If you’ve never heard of him, or only saw his photo, at first glance you might think Lance Gilman was just another Northern Nevada rancher. His laid-back appearance and silver hair, hidden under a Stetson or Resistol cowboy hat, fits right in with the modern day western motif of Bonanza country. And in you would only be half right. Because for those living in Reno and the surrounding area of Storey County, not only does Lance own one of the most famous – some would argue infamous – ranches in Nevada this side of the fictional Ponderosa, but as a highly successful real estate broker and shrewd businessman, he is a bit of a maverick, for it is his outside-the-box thinking and free spirit that has made Storey County, Nevada the go-to place for major corporations in recent years.

In addition to owning the World Famous Mustang Ranch, which became Nevada’s first licensed brothel in 1971 under then owner Joe Conforte, the 73-year-old Gilman is a principal and director for L. Lance Gilman Commercial Real Estate Services as well as the broker/owner of L. Lance Gilman Real Estate, the residential branch of the exclusive brokerage firm for the Tahoe-Reno industrial center. In addition to being a Storey County Commissioner for the past five years, Gilman is a father of four with 10 grandchildren. He once described himself as a “dyed-in-the-wool Republican who loves American values.”

Along with his partners, Gilman acquired, planned, marketed, developed and sold out South Meadows Business Park, a 2,500-acre community in South Reno, which integrated single and multi-family homes, industrial space, distribution terminals and retail stores. He landed deals with IGT (International Game Technology) and Lockheed, as well as closed sales with some of the largest residential home developers in Northern Nevada.

In 1998, Gilman helped private developers buy 102,000 acres of the adjacent Asamera ranch (formerly McCarran ranch) from Gulf Canada for $20 million. This property was later developed into the 107,000 acre Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center (TRIC), located just outside the county limits of the Reno-Sparks metropolitan area, and touted as the world’s largest industrial park. There, Gilman has forged business relationships with more than 150 major corporations including Alcoa, Dell Computers, Kal-Kan, Panasonic, Petsmart, Toys R Us, US Ordinance and Walmart.

But perhaps the biggest deal Gilman ever closed for the TRIC, and certainly, the most high profile, was in 2014 when Gilman closed the deal for the $5 Billion Tesla Motors lithium-ion battery factory called Gigafactory 1. Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval called it “the deal of the Century” and some Nevada business leaders went so far as to call the Tesla transaction the most important single real estate deal in Nevada, since the founding of Las Vegas.

Maybe that’s pushing the accolades a bit too far, but Storey County Manager Pat Whitten once said Gilman was “the lead economic engine for Northern Nevada” as Lance and his team have a reputation for working out the details on complex real estate transactions. In late 2017, Gilman closed another major deal for the TRIC, this time with Google, as 1,200 acres of land was purchased for $26.1 million to build a data center.

Gilman is an active participant and major player in the region’s commercial real estate community. He holds memberships with: the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN), NAIOP Northern Nevada and the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce, and the Northern Nevada Development Authority (NNDA).

But even with all that, everyone still loves to talk with Lance Gilman about his most famous asset and its colorful past – The Mustang Ranch.

During the 30-plus years prior to Gilman being associated with the Mustang Ranch, it had a fairly nefarious history that included pretty much everything that could possibly happen, including a segregated trailer for black customers, and even murder. In 1976, former boxer Oscar Bonavena, who was friends with original owner Joe Conforte, was shot and killed on the premises; he was suspected of having an affair with Conforte’s wife.

In 1999, the Mustang Ranch was forfeited to the United States Government following Conforte’s convictions for racketeering, tax fraud and a litany of other crimes. As the business went to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, a court-appointed trustee operated the brothel on behalf of the federal government. By 2003, however, the Bureau of Land Management put the Ranch’s pink stucco structures up for sale on eBay. Gilman, who owned the Wild Horse Adult Resort & Spa at the time, bought the buildings for $145,100 and had the main parlor relocated to his complex over five miles east to the new location at exit 28 off 1-80 with a Chinook helicopter. 

Gilman, who had hoped to use the Mustang Ranch name for his new brothel when it opened in 2005, couldn’t do so as the rights were tied up. Gilman battled Conforte’s nephew David Burgess, who owned the Old Bridge Ranch brothel and who had been the manager of the Mustang for ten years (1979 to 1989). In December 2006, a federal judge finally ruled in Gilman’s favor stating that he was the “exclusive owner of the Mustang Ranch trademark” thus giving him full rights to use the name and branding as he saw fit.

Now Gilman is entering his 12th year as the guardian of the Mustang Ranch brand. He sees more good things in the future for the iconic Northern Nevada brand as its tradition continues.

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