A major California developer ripped the state Senate and the last-minute legislative moves that exclude his downtown Las Vegas project from the "green" construction tax breaks passed by state lawmakers in 2005.
Robert Zarnegin, president and CEO of Probity International, which intends to build the 60-story World Jewelry Center, said he was "backstabbed" by the state Senate, and Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, in particular.
"This has a tremendous chilling effect on the way businessmen may view the state of Nevada," Zarnegin said in an interview this weekend. "I don't appreciate it when there is backstabbing going on. I don't appreciate it when they send a message that the Senate cannot be trusted."
Zarnegin's previous projects elsewhere include The Peninsula Beverly Hills luxury hotel, a mid-rise Manhattan mixed-use development on Madison Avenue, The Wilshire condominium project and other high-end developments.
The World Jewelry Center, an $800 million office and retail tower, has been envisioned as a key part of the city's downtown redevelopment. Zarnegin said his company had counted on the 2005 "green" tax breaks to make the project work. He said that a compromise reached with the Assembly leadership on May 26 had included grandfathering in his project.
Zarnegin said he also had spoken with Townsend, who he said understood his position. But Zarnegin's project, as well as Wynn's, ended up excluded in a later version.
Zarnegin said he didn't know why his project and Wynn's project were excluded from the deal.
Zarnegin said he figures the World Jewelry Center "may have been caught in the middle of some of the major casinos' disagreements."
The World Jewelry Center has been touted as a project that could make Las Vegas an international jewelry hub by bringing scores of industry manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers together at one location.
The Las Vegas City Council entered into an agreement in July with Zarnegin, who said he has spent too much money and time and made too many commitments to tenants to back off the project now.
"I'm not the kind of person that doesn't stay with his commitments," he said. "I'm hoping the Legislature in its wisdom understands the importance of the green program in the long term because it's the right thing to do."
Otherwise, he said, "it sends a terrible message around the world on what this Legislature is all about."