Performing arts center ready for groundbreaking

The Smith Center for the Performing Arts could break ground in as little as two months, now that the city of Las Vegas has put together a financing package that supports the construction and takes into account the impact of the economic downturn.

"This is a milestone event," said Don Snyder, who chairs the center's board of directors.

The Las Vegas City Council took two related actions Wednesday.

First, the council approved $105 million in bonds that will be backed by a 2 percent tax on rental cars. Then it approved $85 million in bonds backed by revenues from the city's Redevelopment Agency, which are separate from city operating funds.

From the second pool, $45 million will go toward the Smith Center's construction, with the rest backing other improvements in the city's redevelopment area.

Backers also have secured $200 million in private commitments, Snyder said.

Interim Deputy City Manager Mark Vincent said the redevelopment bonds have found investors, which made him "extremely pleased."

It's been difficult to find buyers because of the general economic turmoil as well as negative publicity surrounding a pending ballot issue that seeks to undue Las Vegas' redevelopment ordinance.

A court hearing is looming on that ballot issue.

The $105 million in bonds backed by the rental car tax should be sold by the end of the month, Vincent said.

"We're ready to go. We think these bonds are going to be well-received in the market."

Las Vegas originally was going to finance the entire $150 million with the car rental tax, but had to take into account that fewer visitors due to the economic slump likely meant fewer rented cars, Snyder said.

The center will occupy five acres within the 61-acre Union Park in downtown Las Vegas.

Plans call for a 2,050-seat main theater as well as smaller performance spaces and classrooms, a park and an outdoor theater. It will be home to the Las Vegas Philharmonic and the Nevada Ballet.

The center is named for Fred Smith, a former Review-Journal executive who chairs the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. The foundation has committed $150 million to the project.

Fundraising will continue, Snyder said.

The total cost of the center has been pegged at $485 million.

Construction costs make up $245 million of that total, with the rest going for an operation endowment and furniture, fixtures and equipment.

Construction is expected to generate 1,000 jobs over two years.

"We're stimulating the economy," said Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman. "We're stimulating our intellect in the community."

Contact reporter Alan Choate at or 702-229-6435.