Henderson council amends plans to allow $1 billion sports complex

A familiar plan to build a more than $1 billion sports complex -- one that could be home to professional football, baseball, soccer and basketball teams -- cleared its first hurdle in Henderson on Tuesday night when the City Council amended its zoning, land use and streets and highways master plans to facilitate infrastructure for the project.

But the deal with Austin, Texas, developer Chris Milam, principal of International Development Management, is far from done despite his goal to break ground next summer and open two of the four venues about one year later.

City Councilwoman Kathleen Vermillion on Wednesday said she voted for the project because in theory it is attractive for a city with the goal of becoming the nation's premier community. But Vermillion isn't convinced the group that appeared before the council Tuesday night can pull it off.

Last month, project representative Lee Haney told the City Council the Las Vegas National Sports Center would create 10,000 jobs. On Tuesday night, Haney said it would create 4,000 jobs without offering an explanation of the 60 percent reduction.

"What happened to those 6,000 jobs?" Vermillion said. "If the scope has changed that would explain the discrepancy, but the scope didn't change."

The project, situated near the M Resort east of Las Vegas Boulevard, would be built on 485 acres now owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management.

Phase 1 calls for a 17,500-seat arena for an unidentified National Basketball Association franchise and "190" other events, according to Haney.

Phase 2 is a 25,000-seat stadium to house a Major League Soccer team -- also unidentified -- 12 tennis courts capable of hosting professional tournaments, and 14 soccer practice fields.

Phases 3 and 4 involve a baseball park and 63,000-seat football stadium.

Plans also call for bars, restaurants and 11,000 parking spaces.

"I want to see the project happen regardless of the developer," Vermillion said. "The city of Henderson is committed to the project, but not necessarily this one."

Vermillion, formerly known as Kathleen Boutin, said her primary concern is ensuring the financial risks the city would face are clearly spelled out should the project move forward.

She also has concerns over the timeline. The master project agreement approved Tuesday gives Milam three years to finish the complex, but financing it would require state lawmakers to pass a bill that would allow the developer to add a 12 percent to 16 percent facility fee. The fee would be added to ticket and food and beverage prices.

The Nevada Legislature earlier this year declined to pass the bill for Milam -- or for any arena project -- and lawmakers are not set to meet again until 2013.

"The timeline is screwy," Vermillion said. "I'm real interested in the legislative initiative."

Dennis Porter, who is handling the city's side of the project, told the City Council on Tuesday that getting the Legislature and Gov. Brian Sandoval's approval wouldn't be a problem, but he did not elaborate. Porter, formerly the city's director of utility services, said residents would not be saddled with a tax increase to help fund the project. He also said, however, that bonding studies would be conducted in January.

Mayor Andy Hafen said the city needed plenty of time to review documents and requested that Milam provide them before the BLM land sale closes. Once that happens, he said, the city would not be allowed to back out.

Attempts to contact Milam and Haney for comment were unsuccessful.

Vermillion's immediate concern is the unexplained discrepancy in the number of jobs the project would create. "If we're not getting accurate information now, it is critical we make sure we get accurate information going forward."

Milam turned his sights on Henderson after striking out on three other proposals: one near downtown Las Vegas and two near the Strip.

The Clark County Commission and Las Vegas City Council were not nearly as bullish on the project as the Henderson City Council seems to be. Both entities rejected the idea. No professional leagues have committed to bring a team to Southern Nevada.

The only components of the stadium project that the City Council rejected were Milam's plan to provide massage and reflexology outlets he proposed for a retail area set aside for taverns and restaurants and a landing pad to accommodate four helicopters. The City Council did not think the parlors were an appropriate use for the project.

City Councilwoman Debra March said helicopters could land at the nearby Henderson Executive Airport. She also suggested the developer provide a place for people to lock up their bicycles, covered parking for tailgaters and hookups for people in recreational vehicles.

Contact reporter Doug McMurdo at dmcmurdo@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5512.