Members of the Culinary union have as much right as anyone to attend Las Vegas City Council meetings and make their opinions known.
And the project the union chose to protest at Wednesday’s council meeting does deserve close, ongoing scrutiny.
The plan is to spend $150 million — $266 million, when financing costs are thrown in — to renovate a defunct casino property near the corner of Main Street and Lewis Avenue, turning it into a new City Hall.
There’s nothing wrong with the current City Hall. Instead, the theory is that vacating the current prime City Hall location could stimulate new private development at and around that site, near the old post office at Las Vegas Boulevard and Stewart Avenue.
The city’s director of business development, Scott Adams, says he hopes tax revenues from those new developments will more than compensate the city for its costs in making this move.
But, “There’s no guarantee that any of these projects will come,” objected Chris Bohner, research director for the Culinary union, before he and his red-shirted delegation stood up and marched out of Wednesday’s council meeting, chanting, “No new City Hall!”
Mayor Oscar Goodman conceded Wednesday that for the plan to work, the pieces have to fit together like “a jigsaw puzzle.”
The biggest risk is that — should no new private tenants show up for the current Stewart Avenue parcel in this era of tightened credit — the “path of least resistance” would be to continue using that site as municipal office space, which would withdraw both parcels from the tax rolls.
Nonetheless, and despite the fact his own rhetoric can sometimes take wing, it was good to see the mayor — along with Councilman Larry Brown — standing up to the Culinary goon squad Wednesday in what became a shouting match, dismissing their arguments as “disingenuous.”
Mr. Bohner criticized the city for pursuing the plan at a time when it’s contemplating budget cuts elsewhere, including requests for concessions from its employee unions, which do not include the Culinary.
But the city proposes separate bonding to finance the City Hall project, leaving it up to private investors to decide whether they’ll back the project.
Yes, those bonds would eventually be paid off through tax collections. But it’s indeed “disingenuous” to imply this money would otherwise be available in the short term to pay meter maids, planning bureaucrats or whatever.
The mayor said Wednesday the presence of the Culinary contingent was intended to have the same intimidating effect as FBI agents standing in court with their arms folded during trial or sentencing for some of the mayor’s clients, in his earlier days as a criminal defense attorney.
Indeed, it’s not necessary to scratch too far beneath the surface to acquire a healthy suspicion that the Culinary’s real problem with the city’s current redevelopment plan hinges around tax incentives designed to facilitate the redevelopment of the Lady Luck Casino and surrounding property on Stewart Avenue by the California-based CIM Group.
Could it be the CIM Group has no current contract with the Culinary union?
Just how deep and heartfelt are the Culinary’s objections to these current redevelopment plans? If the council were to guarantee the union’s leadership that no new or renovated hotel-casino would be allowed to proceed downtown without a contract to the Culinary’s liking (not that we’re recommending any such thing, because that should be up to the private developers), it might be amazing to watch how quickly these red-shirted protesters would strike up the band, shouting “Hallelujah!” and singing the plan’s praises — and the mayor’s — in three-part harmony.
Union members have every right to speak out. In this case, some of their objections are worth a closer look. But when they disguise their true motives, others have just as clear a right to say, “Oh, please.”