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EDITORIAL: Stadium blame game

The bid to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to downtown Las Vegas is all but dead, which means it’s time for the supporters of a tax-subsidized stadium to start pointing fingers. Mayor Carolyn Goodman and City Councilman Bob Coffin, who want to give tax money to private developers so badly that they tried to block a public vote on the transfer, have found their scapegoat: this newspaper.

They’ve trashed the Review-Journal’s coverage of the issue as inaccurate and incorrect without requesting corrections. On Friday, a judge ordered the stadium plan placed on June’s ballot, all but ensuring that MLS will award an expansion team somewhere else. And in a Monday interview on KNPR’s “State of Nevada,” Mr. Coffin responded with his best Brian Williams impersonation (and a heavy dose of irony): He started making stuff up.

Mr. Coffin said the Review-Journal has received similar subsidies from the city. He implied the Review-Journal controls the jewel of downtown Las Vegas, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

“The same deal given to Don Reynolds’ and Fred Smith’s Review-Journal is the one that was being offered for this stadium,” he said. “Same thing as Smith Center.”

Even if this were true (it’s not), it would be an awful comparison.

Mr. Coffin is correct that the $470 million Smith Center received heavy public subsidies. The city provided the land and about $60 million in redevelopment funds; a rental car tax funds a $105 million bond; and the Clark County School District contributed $5 million.

Mr. Coffin is wrong, however, in suggesting the Review-Journal benefited from the deal. Yes, Mr. Reynolds used to own the Review-Journal. And Mr. Smith, for whom the center is named, led this newspaper, Mr. Reynolds’ company and the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation for decades. It was Mr. Reynolds’ foundation that provided the funds that made The Smith Center a reality — $150 million, Nevada’s biggest-ever donation and the second-largest philanthropic gift to the arts in U.S. history. And that support was provided well after the Review-Journal was sold to the Stephens family.

The Review-Journal’s editorial page supported the public-private partnership that created The Smith Center because of the level of philanthropy, because The Smith Center is a nonprofit, and because there was demand for a world-class performance hall. The Smith Center has been wildly successful. On the other hand, there is little public demand for a soccer stadium or MLS team. That’s why Mrs. Goodman and Mr. Coffin led the council in voting 4-3 to block a public vote on the stadium — they knew it would lose.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal has dared to report the true cost to the public of the 24,000-seat stadium approved by the council: about $100 million in land, infrastructure and construction subsidies. And that total doesn’t include tens of millions of dollars in interest costs on the construction bond, $20 million for a parking garage that will turn over revenue to the stadium’s developers, or property tax abatements. But Mr. Coffin stands by the delusion that the newspaper — not stadium subsidy supporters — is embellishing, and that the stadium would be as successful as The Smith Center.

“The sad thing is that it wasn’t ever really told because we only have one newspaper. And that is the nicest thing to have on your side, is the newspaper,” Mr. Coffin told KNPR. What the Review-Journal reported was “far, far from the truth,” he said.

Someone please call the Las Vegas Sun to let them know they apparently no longer exist. Not that we entirely disagree.

No one has covered this issue as thoroughly and fairly as the Review-Journal. The taxpaying public read our reports and editorials and overwhelmingly reached the same conclusion: the City Council made a bad deal, and city government ignored the public’s concerns. Worse, after petitioners tried to give themselves the right to override the council, the city blackballed subsidy opponents by changing the signature requirements and rejecting their bid.

Now the council might be asked to fund an appeal of District Judge Jerry Wiese’s ruling in favor of petitioners. The council shouldn’t dare. If Mr. Coffin, Mrs. Goodman and other subsidy supporters want to find someone to blame for this debacle they should look in the mirror.

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