Goodman sees big things ahead for Symphony Park

Think of her as the caretaker mayor.

Nearly three months into her second term as Las Vegas’ top elected official, Mayor Carolyn Goodman admitted she rode husband and former Mayor Oscar Goodman’s coattails into her seventh-floor office. She said she was elected to that post to help see through several high-profile, often publicly subsidized projects the first Mayor Goodman helped hatch.

But that doesn’t mean Goodman is always content to act as the custodian of her husband’s legacy. Nor does it imply she’s moved past her failure to see through the largest project with ties to his tenure — a $200 million, 24,000-seat downtown soccer stadium abandoned by city leaders after Major League Soccer pulled Las Vegas out of the running for an expansion franchise in February.

Speaking during a wide-ranging Aug. 20 interview with the Review-Journal, the 76-year-old mayor reiterated her hopes for bringing professional sports to downtown Las Vegas, throwing her full support behind a newly unveiled, privately financed bid to host a professional soccer franchise at Cashman Field, the decades-old home of the Las Vegas 51s minor league baseball team.

In fact, Goodman said, she always wanted to use Cashman to that end, but deferred to downtown stadium plan backer Justin Findlay’s dream to build in Symphony Park — the 61-acre former downtown railroad yard the city has spent some $100 million to clean up in the hopes of attracting long-promised development.

The mayor also confirmed discussions to land a large, unidentified state agency’s headquarters at the park, where developers at the Molasky Group hope to build up to 300,000 square feet of office space over the next several years.

Molasky said it plans to pay taxes on its building regardless of which government entities move in, a decision that helped win the group support from conservative city leaders who have long criticized attempts to host nonprofit, non-taxpaying tenants that do not help the city pay off the park’s bond-funded infrastructure improvements.

Big project hinted

Goodman went on to promise an “enormous” private development to be unveiled somewhere outside of downtown sometime in October, but cited ongoing negotiations in declining further comment on the effort.

Bringing in such a project could eventually pay political dividends for Goodman, who said she couldn’t rule out a run for a third term in 2019.

Failing to do so could play right into the hands of her political opponents, some of whom have already accused her of piggybacking on her husband’s downtown accomplishments — including agreements to build the Mob Museum, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts and the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health — in a shallow bid for votes. That campaign approach didn’t work very well for top mayoral challenger and City Councilman Stavros Anthony, whom Goodman eventually topped by 13 points at the polls this year.

Pressed on that point during her re-election campaign, Goodman — who framed her candidacy around promises to keep up the city’s redevelopment momentum — couldn’t name an uninherited project she had helped shepherd into downtown.

She didn’t see the need to take another shot at the question last month.

“There’s no shot,” Goodman said. “I was elected to continue what Oscar started.

“I can assure you, had someone else gone into office at that time, some of the projects could have gone asunder.”

Driving development

It’s not difficult to imagine who Goodman fears would have dragged down those projects.

Anthony, Goodman’s former right-hand man and one-time front-runner for her seat, built his mayoral campaign around a platform of stopping public subsidies for the mayor’s stadium and staunching the flow of taxpayer dollars into downtown revitalization projects.

Long a cheerleader for downtown redevelopment, Goodman made a point of citing some $1.2 billion in “revitalization” and 31,283 new jobs she said her policies have helped bring to Las Vegas’ downtown redevelopment areas.

The mayor made sure those figures — which come from estimates provided to the city, unaudited, by downtown developers — played prominently in two TV campaign ads that suggested there would have been no such growth under Anthony.

A city spokesman made use of similar downtown growth numbers in August, adding them to a bullet-point list of development projects that featured more than a dozen privately owned restaurants, coffee shops and breweries opened in the downtown area since Goodman took office in 2011.

Some of those businesses benefited from tax breaks and financing tools provided by the city’s oft-criticized redevelopment agency. Others either cut their own path to downtown or were nursed to life by the Downtown Project, a private redevelopment initiative founded with $350 million in financial backing from Zappos shoe magnate Tony Hsieh.

‘Big year’ to come

The mayor had much more to do with two controversial projects that weren’t on the list.

One, a pedestrian bridge spanning Main Street at the park’s northern border, will cost an estimated $9 million to build. There is no development underway at the northern end of Symphony Park, where developers and city staff have long promised a 1.6 million-square-foot hotel-casino and hundreds of residential housing units near the future bridge construction site.

The other — a divisive, stadium-related parking garage to be built with sales taxes collected largely from a nearby outlet mall — faced opposition from city and county leaders as well as members of the Nevada Tourism Commission. Appointees to each of those boards have expressed concern that the district-funded proposal could amount to a “disingenuous application” of state law, because it relies on revenue from an already completed mall expansion project. Goodman now says revenue from the district could be sufficient to fund a pair of garages in Symphony Park.

The big ticket non-infrastructure developments planned during the mayor’s tenure — new plans for a downtown modern art museum, recently approved blueprints for a downtown state Supreme Court building — only jumped off the drawing board in August.

Still other rehabilitation projects, such as competing proposals to host either a drone testing dome or a soccer team at Cashman Field, are little more than concepts at this point.

Despite the uncertainty, Goodman expects Las Vegans have a “big year” ahead of them.

Maybe casino owner Derek Stevens, who recently purchased the Las Vegas Club, will build some downtown convention space, she hinted. Perhaps the owners of the Downtown Grand will plow ahead with a long-awaited retail project next to the Mob Museum? It’s not out of the question that out-of-state developers will start to follow through on their grand plans in Symphony Park, she said. Goodman has heard the fears about squeezing out that potential growth by allowing further nonprofit development in the park.

She knows she stands accused of throwing good money after bad in the city’s redevelopment area.

By and large, the mayor remains unmoved. As long as the business is hiring, Goodman plans to keep her door open to anyone who’s serious about setting up shop downtown.

“I’m very big about show me the money, put the shovel in the ground,” she said, echoing a line often used by her husband. “Our purpose is to help (developers) find a location.

“What has to be driven is quality of life. People who work here will spend here.”

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

KEY GOODMAN DATES

June 1999: Oscar Goodman elected mayor.

October 2005: Symphony Park opens for business.

December 2005: City signs project management deal with California-based Newland Communities, which has long planned to build as many as 2,100 homes and thousands of square feet of retail shopping at the park.

February 2007: Workers break ground on the $70 million Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, which opens in May 2010.

January 2008: City approves tax incentives for World Jewelry Center, an as-yet-undeveloped 1.4 million-square-foot residential and retail tower in Symphony Park. Las Vegas-based developers at the Molasky Group express interest in developing office space on the property.

March 2008: Las Vegas signs development agreement with the Charlie Palmer Group to build a “luxury boutique hotel” at the park. Those plans have not come to fruition.

May 2008: Master development agreement signed to build Las Vegas’ now 4-year-old, $146 million City Hall. The deal cleared a path for Cleveland-based City Hall developer Forest City Enterprises to draw up plans for a still undeveloped 1.6 million-square-foot hotel-casino complex in Symphony Park’s northwest corner.

May 2009: Crews break ground on the $470 million Smith Center for the Performing Arts. The center opened in March 2012.

August 2010: Smith Center President Myron Martin announces plans to build the Discovery Children’s Museum with a $43 million gift from the Reynolds Foundation. The museum opened in March 2013.

June 2011: Carolyn Goodman elected mayor.

February 2012: The Mob Museum, built with millions in local, state and federal tax dollars arranged under Oscar Goodman’s tenure, opens near Stewart and Ogden avenues.

March 2012: City Hall opens. The facility — another project planned while Oscar was in office — was built with the help of $188 million Las Vegas borrowed from outside investors.

May 2012: City signs deal with Citra Real Estate Capital LLC to build a $71 million skilled nursing and assisted living center on roughly 3 acres near the Cleveland Clinic. Citra is yet to break ground on the project.

May 2013: City leaders open a roughly $6 million pedestrian bridge spanning railroad tracks that separate the City Hall parking garage and surface parking at the Smith Center.

September 2014: Las Vegas leaders extend construction deadlines on Downtown3rd, a 425,000-square-foot retail development next to the Mob Museum.

January 2015: City Council approves a deal to draw up blueprints for a second pedestrian bridge spanning the railroad just south of the Plaza.

April 2015: Divided council members approve controversial $25 million stadium-linked, sales tax-funded parking garage near the Smith Center.

August 2015: City Council members agree to help fund a proposed $35 million modern art museum on an as-yet-unnamed parcel in Symphony Park.

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