The push for a publicly financed downtown soccer stadium will continue because Las Vegas Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian decided she needed at least another month to scrutinize the project — a $200 million proposal that will have the city pay about three-quarters of the venue’s upfront costs.
Why does Mrs. Tarkanian need more time? It’s not as if The Cordish Cos. and Findlay Sports &Entertainment, the city’s private-sector partners in the project, are going to arrive at the Oct. 1 City Council meeting with a briefcase containing $150 million, thereby relieving the city (read: the taxpaying public) of its huge costs and bigger risks.
When the council was deadlocked 3-3 earlier this month on whether to move forward with the stadium plan — the 24,000-seat, city-owned facility would be built on city land only if Cordish and Findlay secure a Major League Soccer franchise as the anchor tenant — Mrs. Tarkanian said she needed more time to review the terms and speak with her constituents. That led to a motion to table the plan until next month.
Of course, there would be a lot less mystery about the project’s financial terms if the city hadn’t kept the public in the dark throughout negotiations with Cordish and Findlay. Far from being neutral or skeptical while bargaining with taxpayers’ dollars, the city is the project’s biggest cheerleader. The Sept. 3 council meeting — the public’s first chance to provide input — evolved into a pep rally, with Mayor Carolyn Goodman as cheer captain and dozens of supporters in the audience wearing bright blue T-shirts that read “MLS2LV,” applauding positive comments from fellow boosters.
Nobody at City Hall dared pass out T-shirts declaring support for Las Vegas taxpayers, who are the backstop for this deal. Notwithstanding the soccer fans at the meeting, the public at large is clearly concerned about the city’s exposure here. City government is still spending more than it takes in. It can’t afford its existing services — park and recreation fees just went up — it can’t afford badly needed maintenance on existing city buildings, and it can’t afford the rising payments on the new City Hall.
Already, there are signs this deal won’t pencil out, no matter what the mayor, Cordish and Findlay say to the contrary. As reported by the Review-Journal’s Alan Snell, Councilman Bob Beers — a certified public accountant and stadium plan opponent — appears to have identified a huge hole in the funding plan. The stadium’s projected 2017 revenues come in at $8.3 million, including $4.5 million from rent. That $4.5 million includes the $3.5 million a Major League Soccer team is supposed to pay in rent. But it’s unclear why the stadium revenues would include the team’s $3.5 million rent payment, because that money is supposed to be paid to the city to cover the bond debt that will fund construction of this boondoggle. That discrepancy “will turn the stadium’s promised profit into a loss, and likely leave city taxpayers on the hook,” Mr. Beers wrote on his blog.
Perhaps the city, Cordish and Findlay can find an additional $3.5 million before their town hall series commences Tuesday at Centennial Hills Community Center. A meeting will be held in each of the city’s six wards by Sept. 25. Soccer fans, including those who live outside Las Vegas city limits and don’t have to worry about paying for the stadium’s construction and operations, will be out in force.
The city’s negotiations with Cordish have been going on for four years now, and the plans keep changing. An NBA- and NHL-ready arena, also largely funded by the public, was scrapped earlier this year after MGM Resorts International broke ground on a privately funded, state-of-the-art Strip arena behind the Monte Carlo and New York-New York. The downtown stadium plan is a rush job. Another week, another month, another year can’t make it work.
The valley needs a new stadium to replace the outdated, far-flung Sam Boyd Stadium. But the city’s stadium is too small and inflexible, and downtown is too far from the resort corridor, to attract the special events that would boost the local economy and make the facility viable.
About $200 million for a 24,000-seat, open-air stadium? When the land is free? When other MLS stadiums have been built for less than half that amount? No wonder Cordish and Findlay need tax money to get the thing built. No one in the private sector would ever risk that kind of money on this project.
When the council meets again Oct. 1, the council must vote down this plan and cut ties with Cordish. Then the city needs to give someone else, anyone else, a shot at coming up with a better plan for this valuable parcel at Symphony Park — preferably one that puts the land back on the property tax rolls and requires no subsidies.