Developer of troubled Henderson arena disputes fraud allegation

In April, would-be arena developer Chris Milam boasted to the Henderson City Council that financing for a $650 million professional sports venue was "fully approved."

On Monday, Milam was looking to meet with city officials to discuss why the project "as presently contemplated … was not viable or financeable."

How a reputed slam-dunk seemingly evaporated in just seven months is unclear. Though Milam broke his silence over the weekend with a letter to city officials disputing a description of his project as a fraud, he did not address the status of the $650 million in overseas financing he touted earlier.

City attorney Josh Reid now wants the Bureau of Land Management to put the brakes on the sale of about 480 acres of federal land to Milam, who Reid said was marketing the property to investors as residential real estate despite promising the city it would be used for a professional sports arena.

"The city believes the transaction may not be valid and appears to be tainted by fraudulent representations by Christopher Milam,” Reid wrote to the BLM.

Over the weekend Milam fired back with a letter to Mayor Andy Hafen.

"The claim is that I did all of this as a ruse to be nominated to buy a piece of land," Milam wrote. "It would be an understatement to say that is not the case."

Despite the denial, Milam’s letter appears to contradict what he told the City Council while seeking support for the agreement.

For starters, the weekend letter said the project "under the prior agreement was not viable or financeable."

But in April, Milam told the council he already had secured project financing from Shenzhen, China-based CSST Smart Cities International.

"In a very real sense the project is financed now," Milam told the council in April.

During the same meeting, Milam also said, "It is happening. It is financed."

Milam did not respond to email seeking to reconcile the statements. CSST Smart Cities International did not respond when emailed a request for comment Monday.

Milam also said in April that a staff of eight salespeople was working to secure tenants and events for the proposed arena.

"We should be able to make announcements in a couple of months," Milam said at the time.

Since then, the relationship between Milam and city officials has soured, and another proposed stadium project on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas has gained steam.

On Friday the Board of Regents voted to update the campus master plan to accommodate a 60,000-seat venue and heard a presentation stating it would generate $393 million in spending annually in the Las Vegas area.

That is significant because Milam told the Henderson council in April, "there is only going to be one of these buildings in Las Vegas."

Signs of a fraying relationship between Milam and Henderson officials cropped up Nov. 26 in a letter from Reid to Milam.

In the letter Reid, citing marketing materials for the land obtained by another developer, accuses Milam of marketing the property for residential real estate even though the city "has been very clear from the beginning of this process that it has no interest in rezoning the property for single-family residential uses."

Although city officials entered into an agreement for a 17,500-seat arena suitable for a National Basketball Association franchise, the marketing material said, "If the Arena or stadium are not developed, additional mixed-use and residential will be developed."

On Nov. 28, Milam wrote to City Manager Jacob Snow seeking to terminate the development agreement, saying the project wasn’t viable.

About the same time Milam deposited the remainder of the $10.6 million he owed the BLM for the land, a deal that needed the blessing of the city to proceed.

Reid responded the next day in a letter asking that the BLM either reject Milam’s money or "refrain from further processing" of the deal.

The flurry of events has city officials scrambling to figure out what happened.

"There have certainly been a lot of statements that are somewhat conflicting," city spokesman Bud Cranor said. "Over the coming weeks and months there will be a lot of work to go through the agreements."

In his weekend letter, Milam asked whether city staff would meet with him Monday morning to "create a win-win for all parties." Cranor said no such meeting occurred.

Hafen did not return calls for comment. Councilwoman Debra March said Milam should have come forward sooner with his concerns.

"If it is not viable, then he probably would have done well to have come in and had a conversation with us," she said.

Asked about Milam’s statements to the council in April, March said, "To my knowledge, we haven’t seen any of that come to fruition."

The Henderson project isn’t the first time Milam has been embroiled in a deal that turned sour.

Last week the Nevada Supreme Court upheld a $1.1 million judgment against the developer in favor of Idaho attorney Harry DeHaan.

The judgment was the result of a deal between Milam and former Hard Rock Hotel owner Peter Morton to build a $1.2 billion condo project near the Strip. That deal went bad after Morton accused Milam of lying about the source of his money for the deal.

DeHaan was among disgruntled investors who lost money on the Hard Rock project.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.

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