Poll shows lack of support for downtown arena

Las Vegas voters are lukewarm about the idea of a sports arena downtown, except for senior citizens, who strongly oppose the idea, according to a new poll.

A solid majority said the city shouldn't offer incentives to an arena developer, according to the poll conducted last week for the Las Vegas Review-Journal/8NewsNow.

Overall, 44 percent said the city should pursue construction of a downtown arena, while nearly 48 percent opposed the plan. Almost 8 percent were unsure or had no opinion.

Almost 57 percent said no tax or other public incentives should be offered, versus 37 percent who said they should be.

The phone survey of 600 likely municipal election voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The idea of a sports arena polled especially poorly among voters over 65, who made up the majority of respondents. That's because the poll sought people with a history of voting in city primaries, and "seniors vote," said Marvin Longabaugh of Las Vegas-based Magellan Research, which conducted the poll.

"If you can't win for a municipal project such as this with seniors, you're just not going to win," he said.

That the question specified a downtown arena also could be significant.

"We don't know how many people are opposed to a sports arena, and how many are opposed to having it downtown," Longabaugh said. "They may believe we need a sports arena but (think) downtown's not the place for it."

Last year, the Clark County Commission, which includes mayoral candidates Larry Brown and Chris Giunchigliani, turned down three arena proposals on or near the Strip because they sought public subsidies.

The city of Las Vegas is negotiating with Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. to build an arena for professional basketball or hockey at Symphony Park.

Mayor Oscar Goodman -- whose wife, Carolyn, is leading the pack of candidates running to replace him -- has described it as a "neutral site" not affiliated with a casino company.

The land is city-owned and in the redevelopment area, which means incentives could be part of any eventual deal, but it would need City Council approval.

There also is a proposal for a 40,000-seat domed stadium at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada. That proposal would make use of a special tax district around it if approved by the state Legislature.

"Carolyn thinks the UNLV arena would be outstanding for the university," said Bradley Mayer, her campaign manager. "But she will continue to work with those who want to build an entertainment district and arena downtown.

"However, she will only support the final plan if it's done in a way that does not put taxpayers at risk."

Brown has long been skeptical of an arena and, like other candidates, opposes tax incentives for an arena project.

"I'm not surprised with the responses," he said. "I think people would like to see an arena built, but the bottom line is, who pays for it?

"I think any project like an arena that's going to bring value and jobs to the city of Las Vegas should always be open for discussion. But is it a priority? No. And if it involves public dollars, absolutely no."

Giunchigliani also said the city has other topics it needs to focus on.

"We've been studying this for 25 years, and it's never penciled out," she said. "It's not part of my economic diversification plan."

There are more immediate issues, such as making permitting and licensing easier, that could provide a more immediate and more attainable economic boost, she said.

"Those are the types of things the mayor and the City Council ought to be focusing on," Giunchigliani said. "The City Council still has a priority of trying to seek out an arena. I don't think that one should be a priority."

From a partisan prospective, a little more than half of Democrats in the survey supported the idea of a downtown arena, while 59 percent of Republicans were against it. A majority of both Democrats and Republicans polled were against incentives, but opposition was higher among the GOP respondents.

There are still ways to build support for a downtown arena, Longabaugh said.

One is linking any talk of an arena or incentives for it to promises from the developer for a certain number of jobs.

"If there was a jobs quid pro quo, I'm betting you would've gotten more traction for it," he said.

And there could be a parking angle. Downtown visitors and business owners frequently complain about the difficulty of parking. Most streets are metered and there's limited free casino parking, which sometimes requires the extra step of ticket validation by certain casinos.

"If one of those candidates is smart, they would point out that building an arena downtown means you've got to build parking for it," said Longabaugh, noting that other cities have their arena parking do double duty as cheap or free parking for a downtown district. "That parking could be used to alleviate some of the parking issues downtown."

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@review journal.com or 702-229-6435.