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Goodman says Culinary won’t intimidate him on city hall plans

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said Culinary union members accomplished nothing Wednesday in their vocal opposition to a new city hall, while a union spokesman said he hopes the protest will fuel support for a public vote on the project.

Members of Culinary Local 226 demonstrated during a Las Vegas City Council meeting, chanting, “No new city hall!” after officials unanimously voted to move the $150 million project forward.

“I can’t see any benefit of anything they did,” Goodman said at a Thursday press conference, adding that it’s likely the union is protesting the project so that new downtown casinos — part of the expected development associated with a new city hall — would be unionized.

“They’re looking to muscle a contract through intimidation of the council. Ain’t gonna happen,” Goodman said. “I’m not going to be intimidated by Culinary.”

Chris Bohner, the union’s research director, said the goal is to put the project on the ballot for voters to approve.

“If the mayor and the council hear from enough people, they’ll put it to a vote,” he said.

City officials have been pursuing a new city hall building at Main Street and Lewis Avenue for months, presenting it as part of a complex and ambitious plan that would advance downtown revitalization and open up high-profile property for redevelopment.

Culinary’s opposition is rooted in objections to the high price tag at a time when the city is struggling with slumping tax revenues and cutting its budget, Bohner said.

“We’re not against development and investment downtown,” he said, but “I really think voters need to take a real close look at this.”

As proposed, developers Forest City and LiveWork LLC would build the new city hall. When completed — in 2011, on current timetables — the city would move in and pay a reduced rent for the first five years. The developers would receive a parcel in the 61-acre Union Park development on which to build a 1,000-room hotel-casino.

Forest City and LiveWork also plan to build commercial/retail buildings on three blocks next to the new city hall site. A renovation and reopening of the Lady Luck casino is also in the works, and moving out of the existing City Hall would open up about six acres next to 12 vacant acres the city already owns at Las Vegas Boulevard and Stewart Avenue, facing the freeway.

New taxes from those developments would pay for the new city hall, city officials have said.

As for the risk that the projects won’t materialize in time to pay those costs, Goodman said, “Life is risk.”

He said the risk is small and that the reward is a chance to “remake downtown” and fuel growth.

Bohner derided the plan as a pie-in-the-sky, “if-you-build-it they-will-come” approach.

Las Vegas has to get approval from the Clark County Debt Management Commission to seek financing, and will ask for up to $266 million. The City Council also must approve actually issuing the bonds.

Culinary union members will use those votes to continue to call for a chance for the public to weigh in, Bohner said.

It doesn’t have to be on a ballot because city officials are not seeking a property tax rate increase to pay for the new building, said city Finance Director Mark Vincent.

Goodman on Thursday said a vote wasn’t necessary because voters’ voices had been heard when they elected him and the current City Council.

Bohner said the union is interested in jobs. “The jobs downtown should be good middle-class jobs with benefits, and we will always advocate for that,” he said. But he also said the opposition was on behalf of “60,000 members who pay taxes.”

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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