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Las Vegas stadium gives energy to monorail extension proposal

The Las Vegas Monorail Co. will seek Clark County commissioners’ permission this week to extend the monorail’s route from the MGM Grand to Mandalay Bay.

The 1-mile-long extension was a project marked for advancement in a traffic assessment report commissioned by the Nevada Department of Transportation board and released earlier this month. Along with the extension, a pedestrian bridge is proposed that would link the new monorail station to a proposed site on Russell Road for a new $1.9 billion stadium.

The monorail company, a privately held nonprofit, is asking the county for a maximum of two years to acquire funding and start construction on the extension of the elevated, 3.9-mile-long monorail, which has operated east of the Strip since 2004.

Construction on the monorail extension could start as soon as the second quarter of 2017, according to backup documents provided to the County Commission. At this time, no public money is being sought for the project.

The fashion trade show Men’s Apparel Guild in California, or MAGIC, held twice annually in Las Vegas, has propelled talks on the monorail extension, but the proposal hasn’t gotten to the point of possible advancement until now.

The convention is split between the Mandalay Bay and Las Vegas convention centers, and transportation between the two venues has proved pricey, time-consuming and cumbersome for the group that puts on the show.

CONNECTIVITY THE GOAL

Connectivity along the Strip, particularly between the multiple large-scale convention centers, became a big issue at the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee meetings, said County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak, who served on that committee. The panel recommended the stadium, which supporters hope will be the new home of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders.

During those meetings, the industry leaders on the committee brought to the forefront the lack of connectivity from the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Sands Expo and Convention Center and the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Sisolak said.

With traffic, shuttling conventioneers between venues sometimes can take an hour and a half, Sisolak said.

Extending the monorail also could serve as another way to transport people to the proposed stadium, Sisolak said.

At their Wednesday zoning meeting, scheduled for 9 a.m. in the commission chambers, commissioners will discuss whether to allow the expansion. The county Planning Commission approved a use permit for the project earlier this month.

Sisolak is hopeful that the measure will pass this week.

“I think it makes an awful lot of sense,” Sisolak said. “Something needs to be done with transportation on the Strip corridor and with the convention centers. There needs to be a better way to move some of these people.”

RIDERS WOULD PAY FOR BONDS

While previous estimates put the cost of the extension at $100 million, monorail spokeswoman Ingrid Reisman said last week that “we are not to the level of design at where we know the exact cost.”

Funding for the project is expected to come from bonds that would be paid back with revenue from paying riders, Reisman said. A single-ride ticket on the monorail costs $5, and an unlimited 24-hour pass is $12.

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada previously considered using its credit rating to secure low-interest bonds for the expansion project. Those talks were suspended in August because of restrictions in the transportation commission’s governing statutes, an agency spokeswoman said.

The monorail company now is using about $1.9 million of investment earnings from a $6 million doomsday account to pay for expansion-related expenses. The fund has been in place since 2000, when the County Commission required the monorail company to set aside money to dismantle the monorail should it ever fail.

The monorail company has to pay back money borrowed from the doomsday account at a 4 percent interest rate.

It’s not yet clear how the bonds would be paid if ridership revenue is insufficient.

The monorail already runs from SLS Las Vegas to the MGM Grand and has seven stations, including stops at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Westgate, Bally’s/Paris Las Vegas, Flamingo/Caesars Palace and Harrah’s/the LINQ.

Stretching it farther would increase ridership and decrease traffic on the Strip, supporters said. Connecting to Mandalay Bay would give guests at 9,000 additional hotel rooms access to the monorail.

RIDERSHIP CHALLENGE

Ridership and revenue have been problems for the monorail, especially during and since the Great Recession.

The monorail company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January 2010 after it failed to pay off $650 million in construction and startup costs. The company exited bankruptcy proceedings in 2012, leaving it with a 98 percent reduction of debt to $13 million and maintaining its nonprofit status.

From January through September of this year, monorail ridership averaged about 13,300 people a day. While ridership in 2015 was at 5.1 million, well higher than the 4.55 million in 2014, it’s still nowhere near the more than 7.9 million riders in 2007.

Monorail revenue through the third quarter of this year is estimated at $15.8 million, about $300,000 less than at the same time last year.

Earlier this month, the Legislature approved plans to build a 65,000-seat domed stadium in the county. A 62-acre site west of Mandalay Bay on Russell Road across Interstate 15 has been favored as the stadium’s future site.

Extending the monorail to Mandalay Bay could help drive foot traffic to the stadium if a proposed pedestrian bridge linking the two sites is built.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said a study comparing Las Vegas with Oakland is the next step in the process of relocating the team.

Eventually, 24 of the NFL’s 32 team owners will need to vote to approve the team’s move for it to happen.

The stadium’s financing plan calls for $750 million in hotel room tax money, $500 million from the Raiders and $650 million from Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.

Review-Journal writer Jamie Munks contributed to this report. Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.

Proposed monorail extension, Las Vegas, Nevada (Gabriel Utasi/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

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