County resolution opposes Vegas tourism district tied to stadium project

Clark County commissioners followed through on their threat Tuesday in a battle over sales tax revenue and involving the controversial soccer stadium project planned by the city of Las Vegas.

They unanimously passed a resolution opposing the city’s proposed tourism improvement district, which would help pay for a garage needed for the stadium.

Commissioners object because the Symphony Park-area district’s proposal has parcels that aren’t contiguous, and question whether the district would meet the threshold that requires at least half of the revenue to come from out-of-state visitors.

The city’s proposal would clear the way for a 1,200-space parking garage to be built that would be available for events at a potential $200 million downtown soccer stadium with 24,000 seats.

The county will send the resolution to the Nevada Commission on Tourism, which will make a decision on the matter.

For the Tourism Commission, the decision, under law, is based only on the question of whether at least half of all sales taxes collected in the new tourism district come from out-of-state tourists. To make that decision, they’ll turn to a 25-page tourism district study commissioned by Las Vegas leaders in the summer and later criticized by some City Council members.

The study projects growth that would include three casinos, about 1,800 residential units and 257,000 square feet of retail space by the start of 2016.

But county officials are encouraging the Tourism Commission to take a close look at the city’s study and question its conclusions and data.

“I think somebody needs to verify that data,” Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said.

For example, the district proposal boundaries are gerrymandered to include an outlet mall expansion that’s already started, commissioners said.

Without including the mall expansion that already started, the proposed district doesn’t come close to generating the tourism sales taxes needed to meet the legal threshold, Giunchigliani said. She noted that tourism improvement districts are intended to be a tool for attracting and creating new businesses.

That’s backed up by a 2009 Legislative Counsel Bureau opinion about tourism improvement districts.

“They can delve in further on whether or not the premise that was used to justify the TID by the city could be verified,” she said.

Clark County would lose about $1.5 million in revenue each year if the project moves forward. That’s another source of concern for county officials, as they face a tight budget season that includes the Clark County Detention Center, University Medical Center and the Metropolitan Police Department.

Aside from voicing concerns, commissioners don’t have any say in the final decision about whether the tourism improvement district moves forward. Commissioner Larry Brown was absent.

The potential stadium and the tourism improvement district have divided Las Vegas city officials. Mayor Carolyn Goodman is a strong backer of the project, while Mayor Pro Tem Stavros Anthony is running against her in the spring municipal election, voicing opposition to spending $56.5 million in city funds for the project.

Goodman, who wasn’t at the meeting, said she feels comfortable with city-commissioned research on the tourism district.

She advised county leaders to take a second look at their own testimony on the topic before casting doubt on the study.

“I don’t know what Chris G. is wanting,” Goodman added. “We hire people to do certain jobs, and I tend to believe in the people we hire. I don’t see any issue (with the data).”

Review-Journal writer James DeHaven contributed to this report. Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1.

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