County commissioners criticize LV tourism improvement district

Clark County commissioners voiced sharp criticism Tuesday about the impact of the Symphony Park-area tourism improvement district being pursued by the city of Las Vegas.

Among their concerns: the county would lose some $1.5 million annually from siphoned-off sales taxes, and the tax dollars ultimately would end up benefiting a private business because they would pay for a 1,200-space parking garage that would, in turn, be available for stadium events.

The city’s effort is part of a drive to bring a Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise to Las Vegas as part of its partnership with Findlay Sports & Entertainment/The Cordish Cos.

On Dec. 17, the City Council voted for $56.5 million in subsidies for a $200 million, 24,000-seat soccer stadium in Symphony Park, just across the railroad tracks from City Hall. The stadium will not be built if MLS does not award a franchise to Las Vegas, which is competing against Minneapolis and Sacramento, Calif., for the final expansion team. A MLS decision is expected in the first half of 2015.

“We’re not subsidizing the hockey team going into the MGM Arena, I can tell you that,” County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak told Las Vegas economic development chief Bill Arent during the hearing.

Sisolak was also ticked off county revenue would help build a garage that would support private stadium developers.

Commissioners staged a hearing Tuesday, but don’t have the authority to take action.

The state’s Tourism Commission will have a hearing and an up or down vote before the proposal goes back to the city of Las Vegas for a final vote in April. Under state law, the state commission’s decision hinges only on whether the district would get more than 50 percent of its revenue from out-of-state visitors. If the panel believes that more of the sales taxes would come from locals instead of out-of-state visitors, it could reject the district.

The parking garage would funded with $20 million in Sales Tax Anticipation Revenue, or STAR, bonds. The tourism district would help the city repay the bond debt.

No sales taxes from the district would help pay for the stadium. Instead, the revenue would help build a public parking garage.

A city-commissioned study is banking on rapid redevelopment of the 61-acre former Union Pacific railroad yard, forecasting the completion of three casinos, about 1,800 residential units and 257,000 square feet of retail space by the start of 2016.

Commissioners on Tuesday grilled Arent and city consultant Zachary Sears about the projected $1.1 billion of spending within the district across a five-year period.

Arent said the city will move forward on the parking garage regardless of the stadium project.

But skeptical commissioners pointed out that the stadium and garage are intertwined.

“There’s a direct nexus between this parking garage and the stadium,” said Commissioner Larry Brown said, calling the impact on the county finances “unacceptable.”

In an intense back-and-forth with Arent, Sisolak asked what the city will repay its bonds with if the revenue doesn’t meet forecasts.

At one point, Sisolak prodded Arent to give a clear response: “I’ll give you all the time you want to editorialize.”

Arent said the city would pay from its general fund if that happened.

Sisolak also criticized the district’s boundaries because they rely on right of ways to connect parcels instead of being contiguous. Arent said the city’s plan was made with the advice of legal counsel.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani asked for a resolution to be placed on the next county meeting agenda to express the commission’s sentiments formally on the record for state and local officials. That’s expected in February.

PETITION GAINS SUPPORT

Giunchigliani’s interest in the city’s soccer stadium deal with Findlay/Cordish transcends the comments she made about the proposed tourism district.

The Committee to Elect Chris Giunchigliani is helping pay for a consultant to collect signatures of Las Vegas city residents in hopes of placing the city’s stadium subsidy deal on the June 2 municipal election ballot.

The committees to elect Giunchigliani, Bob Beers and Stavros Anthony — plus four city residents — have raised $19,600 to hire political company Organized Karma LLC to collect petition signatures for the public vote on the stadium subsidies, Las Vegas Councilman Beers said Tuesday.

Council members Beers and Councilman Anthony, who announced Tuesday a run for mayor, strongly oppose public money to build a stadium for Findlay/Cordish. Beers and Anthony — along with Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian — voted against the deal. Mayor Carolyn Goodman and council members Bob Coffin, Ricki Barlow and Steve Ross voted for it.

Ronni Council owns Organized Karma, which began collecting signatures on Friday.

Even the required number of signatures needed to stage the stadium vote is in disute. Initially, the city told the Parks Protection Committee, the group trying to have the stadium vote, that it needs at least 2,306 signatures.

But then about a week later, Acting City Clerk LuAnn Holmes said “inaccurate information” was provided in the city’s Jan. 7 letter and that 8,258 signatures were needed.

Beers disputed that figure in a letter submitted to Holmes Tuesday .

But City Attorney Brad Jerbic rejected Beers’ argument, repeating that 8,258 signatures are necessary

Beers plans to submit a petition with signatures at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1. Contact Alan Snel at asnel@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5273. Find him on Twitter: @BicycleManSnel.

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