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Proponents of stadiums not folding

Proponents of competing Las Vegas stadium projects said Tuesday they aren’t ready to throw in the towel though Nevada lawmakers rejected their plan to divert tax money to help finance at least one development.

Senate Bill 501, which died Monday at the close of the legislative session, would have allowed Clark County to create a special taxing district for one of three alternate and competing Las Vegas stadium projects: a three-stadium site west of Interstate 15 across from Mandalay Bay; a downtown sports arena; and a stadium on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus.

Majestic Realty, which owns the Silverton, is behind the UNLV proposal and its centerpiece 40,000-seat domed stadium for the school’s football and basketball teams. Silverton President Craig Cavileer said Tuesday the bill might have had a better chance if there had been a community consensus on just one project.

“That’s exactly what happened here,” said Cavileer, who spent much of the past week in Carson City trying to drum up support for SB501. “As big a story as we were presenting, the focus needed to be on one project. There has to be consensus with a project of this magnitude when you’re seeking a public-private partnership.”

Lawmakers had raised concerns about stadium financing plans and said they didn’t have enough time to iron out problems in a bill that was introduced late in the session.

Cavileer said stadium boosters won’t give up on his project because UNLV needs it. “It’s too important, and we have the components in place,” he said.

Texas developer Christopher Milam, who is behind the $1.9 billion three-stadium proposal, couldn’t be reached for comment. But Don Logan, a 51s official who helped negotiate the minor-league baseball team’s sale to Milam, said the developer was disappointed by the legislative outcome.

“He is going to go back to Texas to let the dust settle, and he will take some time to figure out his next plan of attack,” Logan said.

Logan said Milam’s project, with separate venues for basketball, professional soccer and a 9,000-seat park for the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s on a 63-acre site, would have broken ground by year’s end.

“The Legislature basically said no to 7,000 construction jobs that could have started in November,” Logan said. “It doesn’t make sense that this bill didn’t pass.”

Milam has said that without a special taxing district, he might scuttle his project. His purchase of the 51s might be in doubt too.

“I can’t pay what I agreed to pay for the 51s and leave them at Cashman Field,” Milam said in an interview last month.

The Las Vegas stadium bill would have allowed any of the project developers to collect an event ticket tax and to keep sales, live entertainment, property and other taxes generated by the arenas to help pay for their construction.

Cavileer said he was disappointed that lawmakers rejected the Las Vegas stadium bill but in the session’s final hour passed a similar measure that lets the Triple-A Reno Aces impose a surcharge on tickets, concessions and merchandise to finance downtown ballpark construction bonds.

In the final days of the session, Assembly Taxation Committee Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said Las Vegas stadium boosters failed to produce bond finance experts to explain their proposals.

“That puts a real damper on the bill,” she said.

The UNLV project includes a retail complex and thousands of units of on-campus housing and hotel rooms, as well as refurbishing the Thomas & Mack Center and closing Swenson Street.

Milam’s three-stadium site was named as the preferred Las Vegas station stop for the $4 billion DesertXpress, a high-speed train connecting Las Vegas and Victorville, Calif. The rail project environmental impact statement, under review by the Federal Railroad Administration, said the site’s advantages include proximity to the south end of the Strip and to McCarran International Airport and the fact that it is “undeveloped and would not require displacement or demolition of any existing development.”

Milam has said the stadiums and the train station could coexist on the site by potentially integrating the station into a stadium. Developers were reportedly looking at buying an estimated 50 acres nearby for parking, event marshaling and facility maintenance.

The more modest, single-arena downtown project, called the Las Vegas National Sports Center, would be on a 70-acre parcel in Symphony Park. Las Vegas and the Cordish Cos., a Baltimore-based developer, have been talking about the downtown project for years, but the Milam and UNLV campus proposals dominated the debate in Carson City.

Review-Journal reporter Benjamin Spillman and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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