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Las Vegas Stadium Bill Backers Stare Down Deadline

Thu June 30, 2011 - West Edition
Michelle Rindels - ASSOCIATED PRESS

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) Talks over a bill authorizing financing for a Las Vegas professional sports stadium wore on for the third day as three competing developers piled on proposed changes late in the legislative game.

A Nevada Assembly panel on June 4 considered a bill allowing Clark and Washoe counties to set up special taxing districts and use some of the revenue to finance a stadium. But with two days left in the session, questions lingered about the risks of the bond financing, and lawyers specializing in the topic had yet to show up to testify.

“That puts a real damper on the bill,” said Assembly Taxation Committee Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, who threatened not to bring it up for another hearing if the questions remain unanswered.

Local jurisdictions could pledge a portion of certain future tax revenues within the district to finance construction bonds, while tax revenue for schools would remain untouched.

Debate June 4 centered on how long the proposed tax funding structure should remain in place. The current version of the bill calls for a review of the financing after 25 years, but some developers say bond investors would prefer the funding structure be locked in for 30 or even 40 years.

Various groups offered amendments to the bill. Caesars Entertainment Corp. — which is proposing its own 20,000-seat basketball arena on the Strip — wants the bill’s 35,000-seat minimum requirement changed so its project would be eligible for the funding mechanism.

Opponents of that idea argue there are already smaller arenas in Las Vegas, and the new project should be substantially bigger to win public financing.

Businesses near the site of the city of Las Vegas’ proposed arena protested a portion of the bill that would levy a $1,000 fee for every parking space within 3,000 ft. of the events center.

And developer Chris Milam is asking that the mandatory construction timeline within the bill be shortened. Milam’s group said at a June 3 hearing that it could start construction on its project within six months, while representatives of a competing plan by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said two years would be more realistic.

The three plans on the table all are centered in Las Vegas, although the bill would authorize a stadium project in any county with a population greater than 100,000. That means Washoe County also would be eligible.

One plan from the city of Las Vegas and the Cordish Co. development group proposes a $420 million pro basketball arena and a shopping center styled after Los Angeles’ LA Live concept. It would be constructed on 13 acres between Symphony Park and downtown Las Vegas.

Another is a three-venue Las Vegas National Sports Center proposal from developer Chris Milam’s company, International Development Management. The $2 billion complex behind the Mandalay Bay hotel-casino would have a Triple-A ballpark, an arena for hockey and basketball, and a stadium for Major League Soccer or football.

The third proposal calls for a $1.6 billion project on UNLV property, including a covered stadium, student dorms and 600,000 sq. ft. of retail space.

Proponents earlier presented ambitious plans they said would transform Las Vegas and lock in the city’s competitive advantage as a tourist destination. Developers said partial public financing is the best way to jump start such massive projects and the building phase would put thousands of unemployed construction workers back on the job.

Skeptics of the plan warn that taxpayers will be liable if the tax revenues needed to pay off bond debt don’t meet expectations. They referred to STAR bonds, a similar funding mechanism the Legislature passed in 2005 that was used to build shopping centers in Washoe County anchored by Scheel’s and Cabela’s sporting goods stores.

STAR bond projects have been criticized for bringing in far less money than predicted, and lawmakers are doubtful the developments are attracting the tourists they promised.

The stadium bill is sponsored by the finance committee chaired by Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas.

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