LV council rejects stadium funding advisory question; Beers launches petition

It seemed like a straightforward vote.

Las Vegas leaders on Wednesday killed efforts to put an advisory question on the June 2 ballot on a $200 million downtown soccer stadium, putting an apparent end to Councilman Bob Beers’ push to stop the controversial project that was narrowly approved last month.

But that didn’t faze Beers, who started a petition drive Wednesday afternoon aimed at bringing the issue to voters without City Council approval.

By the time his motion failed, Beers, long a vocal opponent of using public money to help build the Symphony Park stadium, had already signed an affidavit to kick-start his own signature gathering campaign aimed at blocking the stadium project.

He was joined by fellow council members and stadium subsidy opponents Stavros Anthony and Lois Tarkanian, as well as lobbyist Lisa Mayo-DeRiso and former City Council candidate Suzette Lagrange.

Ballot language included as part of the petition drive asks voters to stop the city from “giving, lending or investing” any of its revenue or assets to a proposed Major League Soccer stadium in Symphony Park.

Beers and four other members of the newly formed “Parks Protection Committee” plan to start knocking on doors in Sun City in support of that proposition on Saturday. They need to collect 2,306 signatures over the next two weeks in order to get the question on the municipal election ballot.

Beers isn’t sure they’ll need that much time.

“Some signature campaigns just drive themselves,” he said. “I don’t recall an issue that’s been this one-sided — at least among my constituents — in my time on the council.

“It’s as closely divided as (this council) has been on anything. … So it makes sense to me to let the people vote.”

Beers’ failed Wednesday motion would have put a city-sponsored stadium funding question on the June ballot, clearing a similar, smoother path to a public vote on the stadium construction deal.

Under the advisory question model, city staff could have spent months fielding a committee that might be inclined to draft softer ballot language to lob at voters this summer, all the while eating up crucial time Major League Soccer says it needs to settle on a home for its newest expansion franchise.

MLS has said it will decide a three-way race between Las Vegas, Sacramento, Calif., and Minneapolis for that franchise in the first half of 2015.

Under the affidavit filed by Beers, voters could pull the plug on a stadium days before or months after Las Vegas leaders land a soccer team, a threat some fear could spell doom for the city’s soccer dreams.

“This will hurt badly,” Councilman Bob Coffin said of Beers’ affidavit. “It puts a cloud over the many votes that we’ve taken.

“If it’s successful, that really hurts. If I was Minneapolis or Sacramento, I’d be jumping up and down right now.”

Coffin, who offered a swing vote to approve the stadium construction deal in December, opposed Beers’ effort to have the city sponsor a stadium funding ballot question, explaining that such a move could erode residents’ confidence in elected officials’ ability to make tough decisions.

He said council decisions should only be taken to the public in “the gravest of circumstances,” such as a tax increase.

Coffin plans to appear on the ballot seeking re-election to a second term the same month that MLS has said it will pick a home for its new soccer franchise.

The possible political ramifications of supporting a voter-vetoed soccer stadium are not lost on Coffin, though the Ward 3 councilman said he doesn’t let campaign considerations get in the way of votes on city business.

Nor does he blame the council’s other Bob for helping turn the soccer stadium into a potential political cudgel for for any Coffin election opponents.

“As far as I know, (Beers) and I are still on the best of terms,” Coffin said. “I don’t think he’s aiming at me.

“I think the main thing is it’s a wedge issue for him that may be useful for him running against Harry Reid.”

Beers, who is running for U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s seat in 2016, said political calculations never entered into his decision to fight for a public referendum on the stadium deal.

Commercial real estate broker and stadium opponent LaGrange, a Republican who opposed three-term Ward 6 Councilman Steve Ross in 2013, said she too has no political dog in the stadium fight, explaining she doesn’t plan to run against anyone in June.

Anti-stadium lobbyist and political consultant Mayo said that the recently approved stadium subsidies have created quite a stir among sitting council members’ political foes, some of whom have expressed an interest in running for one of four Las Vegas council seats up for grabs this year. She declined to name names.

Council members Steve Ross, Ricki Barlow and Coffin joined Mayor Carolyn Goodman in approving the stadium’s construction on Dec. 17.

Goodman, who has called the stadium a key component of efforts to turn Las Vegas into a “premier city,” estimates the project will bring millions of dollars in future tourism tax dollars and hundreds of jobs to the city’s rapidly revitalizing downtown core.

Updated blueprints for the 24,000-seat stadium call for a cutting-edge shade structure and $25 million city-funded parking garage on the 13-acre downtown stadium site.

Some $90 million in hotel room tax fees would have to be plowed into paying down bonds used to pay for the project’s construction — dollars that are currently set aside for city parks.

A similar $146 million bond financing deal to build Las Vegas’ now 4-year-old City Hall generated a pair of failed ballot question campaigns, neither of which were sponsored by a sitting City Council member.

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

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