Woodbury has too many fish to fry to officially retire

Bruce Woodbury has kept busy since ending his 28-year reign as the longest-serving Clark County commissioner, though he has failed in one endeavor.

He hasn’t fished much.

"I’m busier than I’d like to be sometimes," said Woodbury, 65, who left office 14 months ago . "I don’t know if I’ll ever officially retire."

Although he is no longer a politician, he hasn’t shied away from ventures that are controversial and political.

He heads a nonprofit group that seeks to build a professional sports arena on the Strip, pitting it against other groups and companies that are pushing similar plans on the resort corridor and in downtown Las Vegas.

And he joined the board that oversees the financially strapped Las Vegas Monorail, with the hope of keeping it afloat and expanding it to McCarran International Airport.

"I’ve always been big on transportation," he said.

ARENA PROJECT FOUNDER

Woodbury founded the Las Vegas Arena Foundation after Harrah’s Entertainment executives told him the company would donate 10 acres of prime land on the Strip.

They agreed that a larger arena was needed, not only to draw a sports team to the area but to prevent cities with glitzy stadiums from stealing premiere events such as the National Finals Rodeo, which is held each winter at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The arena would seat more than 20,000 people and cost about half a billion dollars.

It would be built behind Imperial Palace and would draw more visitors to the Strip, giving a much-needed boost to the resort corridor and the regional economy, Woodbury said.

Harrah’s officials said it could be paid for with bonds and a seven-tenths-of-a-cent sales tax imposed just on the Strip.

It would be large enough for basketball and hockey, Woodbury said, adding that a stadium must be built before a sports team will come.

"They (teams) like the area but they don’t like the lack of an arena," he said.

The arena would create more than 3,000 construction jobs while it was being built and at least 1,000 jobs after it opened, according to a Harrah’s consultant.

Two out-of-state companies are proposing similar-sized venues for basketball and hockey. Both would seat about 20,000 spectators.

Texas-based International Development Management has drafted plans for an events arena on the former Wet ‘n Wild site, between Sahara Avenue and the unfinished Fontainebleau resort. And Cordish Cos., based in Baltimore, seeks to build a sports complex near Las Vegas Boulevard and Stewart Avenue.

Woodbury said the members of his group are volunteering their time but hope to get paid if the arena materializes.

The group now includes Pat Shalmy, retired Nevada Power president and former county manager; Danny Thompson, secretary-treasurer for the state AFL-CIO; Thom Reilly, former county manager; and Mark James, former county commissioner.

Harrah’s spokeswoman Marybel Batjer said the cadre of dignitaries adds credibility to the proposed arena.

"Bruce and others on the board, they’re highly thought of," Batjer said.

Woodbury said he is choosy about which projects he takes on.

"I’m not going to get involved in anything unless I think it’s helpful for the community," he said.

MONORAIL HOPES

Naysayers might question why Woodbury joined the core group of the financially ailing monorail, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection two months ago.

Woodbury receives $2,500 a month as a board member, but notes the job paid twice that amount before he joined the board. It’s an example of the company trimming costs, he added.

Woodbury defended the much-maligned monorail, saying it has thinned traffic snarls around Convention Center Drive.

"It has been successful in many ways," he said.

Ridership generates enough receipts to cover operating costs with several million dollars left over each year, but this surplus money gets eaten up by the long-term debt, he said.

The monorail is buckling under the $650 million in startup loans that the fares are unable to cover, Woodbury said. The bankruptcy reorganization will lighten the long-range debt and let the company earmark money to replace trains and track in the future.

A lot of companies are filing for bankruptcy protection in the slumping economy, including big casinos, Woodbury said. He insists no one has talked about any government agency taking over the monorail if the company can’t rebound.

He said he’d like to see the line extended to McCarran and casinos west of the Strip, and have it connect to bus routes. That would make travel more convenient for anyone going to the resort corridor, he said.

other responsibilities

If those two leadership posts weren’t enough to keep him busy, Woodbury also serves on the boards for the Boulder City Hospital, the UMC Foundation and the Nevada Highway Users Coalition.

Buzz Harris, an affiliate with the highway users coalition, said members welcomed Woodbury’s expertise.

"Not only historical knowledge, but he’s also very innovative in thinking about ways he’d like to move forward (with research)," Harris said.

And not all of the ideas are popular, Harris said.

For instance, Woodbury thinks governments should explore whether it’s feasible to tax motorists on the miles they drive rather than the fuel they consume. Fuel-stingy cars are generating less in fuel-tax revenue to cover their wear and tear on roads, he said.

He said he doesn’t necessarily support the new tax but believes it should be studied.

"The gasoline tax is becoming an inefficient way to fund road construction," Woodbury said.

Despite all his activities, Woodbury said he can concentrate fully on his law practice now and can take cases to trial, something he did only once in 28 years.

"While I was a commissioner, I took one case to trial and it damned near killed me," Woodbury recalled.

NO PLANS FOR POLITICAL OFFICE

Woodbury said that almost every week someone tries to recruit him for political office. A former leader of the local Republican Party said he was among those who urged Woodbury to jump back into politics.

Bernie Zadrowski, now a judicial candidate, said he tried to coax Woodbury into running for the state Supreme Court, but to no avail.

"He’s a great legal mind," Zadrowski said. "He’s been around a long time. He knows the issues."

But serving on the Supreme Court would require Woodbury to be in Carson City. He said he doesn’t want to work there or in Washington, D.C.

It would separate him too much from his Boulder City home, he said, and surgeries on both of his inner ears have made air travel difficult.

His body’s natural balance is impaired, he said.

Woodbury recently gave county commissioners a $50,000 check on behalf of the UMC Foundation to be spent on the hospital. It was the first commission meeting he had attended since leaving office.

He was glad to be there in a different role than a commissioner. Term limits did him a favor, he said. He was burned out and quickly embraced life after the commission.

"I never had any withdrawals," he said. "One thing I don’t miss: I was always pressed for time. That was 28 years of a very hectic time."

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

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