Questions linger as stadium financial plan deadline looms

Even neophyte fans know soccer is a team sport. From the look of things, most members of the Las Vegas City Council are preparing to don the official jersey of downtown stadium developer Cordish Cos.

Cordish, the city’s development partner, proposes to build — at substantial taxpayer expense — a handsome stadium specifically designed as the home to a Major League Soccer expansion franchise. Cost of the stadium to you, according to one published report: at least $150 million.

Whether you’re a fan or not, that’s a lot of money.

Of course, there’s no guarantee Cordish, with its new local minority partner Findlay Sports and Entertainment, will be able to land the last remaining MLS franchise currently available. With competition from Sacramento and Minneapolis, major metropolitan communities with greater track records of supporting soccer and other pro sports, it’s hard to make Las Vegas a favorite. As an aside, the Sacramento proposal calls for a new stadium deal using no public funding.

Even if this community weren’t still rising from a staggering recession, I haven’t heard anyone outside City Hall excited about the prospect of spending $150 million in public funds for a new stadium.

In fairness, soccer’s FIFA World Cup did, for a few weeks this summer, greatly increase the game’s visibility for Americans. There are signs the professional sport is gaining steam in cities with histories of supporting soccer at the community level. In that narrow light, Las Vegas might be partnering with the game of the future. (Wow, were those words hard to write.)

Cordish approaches a Sept. 1 deadline to reveal its financial plan to the council. The company has until Dec. 1 to secure that professional soccer franchise. No franchise, no stadium.

Led by its Cordish forward/Mayor Carolyn Goodman, in May the council voted to set the timeline with almost unanimous enthusiasm. The only elected official to express much skepticism was Councilman Bob Beers, a CPA who kept letting the numbers get in the way of his love of the game. At the time he said, “I have concerns about the feasibility of the whole thing.”

He was barely heard above the roar of the council crowd then, but three months later, his concerns have not been assuaged.

“I don’t think this proposal’s a good deal for Las Vegas taxpayers,” Beers said Friday, acknowledging that he doesn’t expect his view will put him on the home team.

For some, the problem with the soccer stadium proposal transcends any projected cost to taxpayers. Those who have followed the Cordish-city relationship in recent years know the plan has morphed from a sports arena and shopping and entertainment development on Stewart Avenue to the humbler stadium idea on the former Union Pacific property. The stated costs have dropped from approximately $360 million to an estimated $150 million. Cordish has an established track record of developing shopping and entertainment complexes, but soccer stadiums?

What it undeniably does have is the right to develop that piece of city real estate, which puts it in position of referee, striker and goalkeeper — as long as a majority of council members don’t quit the team.

Then there’s the matter of the timing of the downtown stadium pitch. It might be coming too early for recession-staggered taxpayers, but it’s also taking shape in the wake of a high-profile sports arena project that already has left the drawing board and includes an entertainment and dining district. In May, officials from MGM Resorts International and sports and entertainment giant AEG broke ground on their privately funded, $375 million, 20,000-seat sports arena in the Strip corridor.

“Certainly the landscape has changed quite a bit in recent months,” Beers said, adding that the current downtown plan, “just doesn’t quite stretch to meet the grandeur of what we all thought we were getting.”

If the City Council approves the Cordish financial plan, will the MLS franchise come? If it does, with all the other entertainment options available in Southern Nevada, will you buy a ticket to watch professional soccer in a downtown stadium?

And if it winds up costing taxpayers $150 million or more, will they at least receive a team jersey for their trouble?

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.