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Las Vegas stadium subsidy opponents fear proposed zoning code change

It’s easy to get a new soccer stadium that Las Vegas taxpayers may not want.

Just call it something else.

Stadium subsidy opponents fear that’s the reasoning behind a bill set for introduction at City Hall next week, when Councilman and longtime stadium supporter Ricki Barlow will pitch his peers on a text amendment to the city’s zoning code. The amendment would allow an “outdoor facility or area for sport” on Symphony Park parcels already cleared for a publicly subsidized soccer stadium narrowly approved by city leaders in December.

Barlow’s bill will debut just days after a District Court judge approved a ballot question authored by stadium subsidy opponents. That question aims to deprive the city of $56 million in public funds meant to help build the controversial $200 million stadium project.

But the wording of that question doesn’t specifically prevent the city from using public funds to construct some other kind of outdoor recreation facility.

That’s led some to worry that Las Vegans could vote down a partially taxpayer-backed soccer stadium at the polls on June 2, only to see the city turn around and spend public money on “a broader range of fee-based recreational activities” at the same location.

Mayor and fierce stadium supporter Carolyn Goodman — who passed on a chance to put a publicly subsidized stadium financing plan to voters in January — suddenly reversed her opinion on putting the issue up for a referendum last week, just hours after Judge Jerry Wiese upheld voters’ right to weigh in on a soccer stadium financing plan.

Reached for comment Tuesday, she didn’t rule out the possibility of moving ahead with a publicly subsidized multi-use stadium even if voters turn down subsidies for the soccer venue.

“The public (subsidy) piece of it has always been about community use,” Goodman said. “What does a designated soccer stadium mean? Does it mean a preponderance of soccer events?

“The reality is that the conversation has always been that this would be used for all kinds of things.”

That came as news to Mayor Pro Tem Stavros Anthony, who is running for Goodman’s seat on a staunch anti-stadium subsidy platform.

Anthony said the mayor’s position on the matter amounts to “misleading the public.”

“That absolutely shocks me,” he said of her remarks. “The whole discussion of the stadium was that if a soccer team doesn’t come here, it wouldn’t be built.

“The public has been told that the whole point of the stadium was for soccer.”

Fellow stadium subsidy foe and Councilman Bob Beers, who wrote the soccer stadium-specific ballot language ready to go to voters in June, said it would be a lot cheaper to “rename Cashman Field Goodman Field,” in lieu of going ahead with any kind of stadium in Symphony Park.

“I am surprised at her callous disregard for the public, to even think like that,” Beers said. “I didn’t see it coming. … It’s merely disregarding what the taxpayers think, if in fact that’s the way the vote turns out.”

City officials say a text amendment bill up for council committee consideration next week — one that appears to clear a path for a non-soccer stadium in the city’s development code — is nothing more than a way to straighten out zoning language used to describe acceptable uses on the proposed stadium parcel. They say the bill amounts to little more than a “cleanup item.”

Those who helped orchestrate a weekslong signature-gathering campaign aimed at putting the stadium’s financing plan up for a vote said it looks more like a last-minute end-around to sneak the project past voters.

Political consultant and anti-stadium subsidy lobbyist Lisa Mayo called the amendment “ambiguous, vague and (dangerous).”

She said the only way to keep Goodman from spending taxpayer money on a stadium is to vote her out of office.

The zoning code change up for a committee vote on Tuesday comes against a backdrop of continued political turmoil and uncertainty surrounding Las Vegas’ chances of landing a Major League Soccer franchise.

The city already faces an uphill battle against a pair of experienced Sacramento, Calif.- and Minneapolis-based ownership groups also vying for the franchise award, which is set to be announced this summer.

Councilman Bob Coffin has said that the stadium ballot initiative approved in court last week killed the city’s chances of landing the team. Meanwhile, Clark County leaders have unanimously denounced the city’s plan to finance a county-subsidized stadium parking garage.

Next week’s proposed text amendment might not have raised eyebrows but planning commissioners moved 5-2 against the move at a meeting on Jan. 13.

More than one of those opposed to the bill said they were confused about the change, which isn’t needed in order to build the soccer stadium that was approved by city leaders late last year. Planning Commissioner Richard Bonar, a Beers appointee, said he viewed the move as a planning board referendum on the stadium issue itself, and voted against the move.

Vicki Quinn, another amendment opponent, said she just didn’t see what the item was meant to accomplish.

Nearly a month later Quinn, who was appointed by stadium subsidy foe Lois Tarkanian in 2007, said she’s still fuzzy on the amendment’s purpose.

Acting Planning Director Tom Perrigo said the amendment was “just planning’s attempt to promote clarity.”

“This is driven by council discussion, but I don’t see how it could be a work-around,” he said.

Perrigo said staff started working on the amendment in October or November — weeks before Beers, Anthony and Tarkanian launched their stadium petition signature drive — and said he didn’t think the move could be used to go around voters.

The amendment doesn’t look to resolve any existing problems in the city’s zoning code or do much of anything besides provide a broad, unsolicited definition of permissible outdoor recreation uses where one wasn’t necessarily needed, he said.

Planning Commissioner Ric Truesdell, one of only two planning board members who supported the text amendment, said he too saw it as a housekeeping item.

For Truesdell, Mayor Goodman’s appointee to the planning board, the move isn’t about depriving voters of a chance to vote down a soccer stadium, so much as ensuring that city leaders can make Symphony Park as event-friendly as possible.

He characterized the anti-stadium subsidy crowd’s ballot push as a “waste of effort,” but said he didn’t let that opinion flavor his vote.

“Does this address the stadium? It probably does,” Truesdell said. “I guess people could try and look at it as some grand scheme, but I don’t think this works around the voters.

“Ours is a recommending board. It doesn’t get into politics.”

Las Vegas’ three-member recommending committee is scheduled to hear the text amendment bill on Tuesday.

The full City Council could vote on the stadium amendment as soon as Feb. 18.

Contact James DeHaven at jdehaven@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3839. Follow him on Twitter: @JamesDeHaven.

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