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Tarkanian: Might have been ‘snookered’ on stadium deal

Las Vegas Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian says she might have been “snookered” on the city’s controversial stadium subsidy deal approved last week.

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Tarkanian quipped.

She was referring to confusion over an approved City Council motion on Oct. 1 that paved the way for a nonbinding soccer stadium deal to advance for two months, be revised and eventually endorsed by the council in a 4-3 vote Wednesday.

The stadium deal, or term sheet, calls for the city’s private partners, Findlay Sports &Entertainment/The Cordish Cos., to receive $25 million in funding and $31.5 million in infrastructure improvements at downtown Symphony Park. Thirteen acres are earmarked for the $200 million, 24,000-seat soccer stadium, which Findlay/Cordish hopes will attract a Major League Soccer expansion team.

On Wednesday, City Manager Betsy Fretwell and economic development chief Bill Arent said Las Vegas was putting up $56.5 million for the stadium deal. But City Council members quizzed Arent at the meeting and learned the city is also giving land to Findlay/Cordish appraised at $38 million to $48 million, and tax abatements on the stadium valued at $5 million to $7 million. Findlay/Cordish also gets revenue from a city-built, 1,200-space parking garage for 90 stadium events a year.

The stadium deal is contingent on MLS picking Las Vegas. The league will decide on either Sacramento, Calif., Minneapolis or Las Vegas during the first half of 2015.

The topic of the Oct. 1 council motion also surfaced briefly during Wednesday’s meeting, where Tarkanian thought public money was supposed to have been eliminated from the deal.

But Mayor Carolyn Goodman told Tarkanian the motion from Oct. 1 said staff was supposed to “work toward” eliminating public money from the deal — not eliminate it completely. In the end, the approved deal shaved only $3.5 million off the $60 million public subsidy from Oct. 1.

On that day, the stadium deal was in jeopardy of being killed as the council debated the merits of giving public money and concessions to Findlay/Cordish.

That’s when Councilman Ricki Barlow, a strong stadium subsidy advocate, made a motion to approve the preliminary deal with the understanding that city staff and Cordish/Findlay would work to reduce or eliminate public money.

And that’s when the motion’s language got murky.

Tarkanian wanted to clarify Barlow’s motion, interjecting that staff needed to work toward eliminating, not just reducing, all public money in the proposal.

The meeting video showed Fretwell also trying to clarify the motion.

Councilman Bob Beers explained the wording’s confusion this way: “In that moment of interruption, everybody focused on the ‘eliminating’ of public dollars and didn’t consider the ‘work towards’ part that preceded the interruption.”

Beers, like Tarkanian, thought he was voting on a motion at that Oct. 1 meeting that instructed staff to eliminate public dollars in the stadium deal.

That’s why Beers, a fierce stadium subsidy opponent, said he voted in favor of the deal at the time. It drew a 6-1 council approval, as only Councilman Stavros Anthony dissented.

Beers later said he regretted voting yes on that Oct. 1 council vote.

Barlow said: “My motion was exactly what it was in the record — but it may have been lost in translation.”

After the Oct. 1 meeting, even Findlay’s stadium adviser, Dean Howes, was confused by the motion’s language, telling the Las Vegas Review-Journal at the time, “They worded it poorly. They have to come back and tell us what it means.”

What it meant, politically, is that Findlay-Cordish won more time to figure out what it would take to win the vote of a fourth council member to draw public money for the stadium deal.

Councilman Steve Ross, Goodman and Barlow supported the stadium subsidy from the start. Councilman Bob Coffin voted Wednesday in favor of the subsidy deal when $25 million in funding for the stadium was also packaged with $25 million for parks that Coffin wanted. The city would borrow $50 million, but it will take $90 million to pay back the loan because of interest over 30 years, using hotel room fee money now being used for parks.

Contact Alan Snel at asnel@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5273. Find him on Twitter: @BicycleManSnel.

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