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April 19, 2014

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CITY HALL:

Mayor returns fire over mob museum funding

Senate critics of stimulus pork have singled out project for scorn

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COURTESY OF LAS VEGAS GOVERNMENT

An artist’s rendering shows a concept for exhibits at the mob museum proposed for downtown Las Vegas. Mayor Oscar Goodman last week shot back at critics of possible federal stimulus funding for the museum, saying it will go forward with or without federal assistance.

One of Mayor Oscar Goodman’s favorite downtown development projects, the mob museum, riled up a few Republican U.S. senators last week after they learned that the mayor had requested federal funds for the project.

First, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky mocked the idea on a political talk show.

Then Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., weighed in, claiming a mob museum funding request could bring down a federal stimulus bill “out of embarrassment.”

It seems likely that McConnell and Ensign either didn’t know, or perhaps conveniently forgot, that the project has the full backing and support of the FBI, which is working with museum planners to ensure that the Mafia isn’t glorified and that law enforcement’s mob-battling story is given its due.

More important, Goodman said, is that the project is on course and will remain so even if the feds keep backing away.

The mayor was indignant at his weekly news conference Thursday.

“Apparently folks take issue with the mob museum, but I’m not going to apologize for it,” Goodman said. “So some senator from Kentucky who nobody knows takes a cheap shot? I don’t need it.”

According to a city spokesman, the museum has raised $7.1 million so far, out of projected budget of about $60 million. About half of the money raised is in from federal grants. The other half is from state and local sources. A 2010 opening is planned.

Goodman said a study the city commissioned showed that 250,000 people will visit the downtown museum per year.

Goodman’s request, which he said has not yet been formally acted upon, is part of a “wish list” of projects compiled by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The list was put together in response to President-elect Barack Obama’s request for economic stimulus ideas, including both infrastructure and “Main Street” projects.

According to the conference’s Web site, Las Vegas’ wish list includes proposed federal funding for 47 projects totaling just over $1 billion.

In the unlikely event funding were approved for all of the projects, the city estimates 4,960 jobs would be created.

The projects include park and school renovations, new sidewalks and street improvements.

Three of the largest funding requests, both symbolically and dollar-wise, are for the museum ($55 million), the new city hall project ($167 million) and the Smith Center for the Performing Arts on the new Union Park site ($375 million).

Goodman said he put the Smith Center, new city hall and the mob museum highest on his wish list because of their importance to the city’s redevelopment plans, and “because each and every one of those has the plans already done, ready to start virtually tomorrow,” if such funding is approved.

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With the departure of longtime Ward 4 Councilman Larry Brown, council members have played their usual game of musical chairs, based on seniority.

Some might say the results are fitting, as Goodman, who sits in the middle of the seven-member panel during council meetings, is now flanked by Councilman Gary Reese to the mayor’s right, and Councilman Steve Wolfson to his left.

Reese and Wolfson, who jumped three spots to Brown’s place on the dais, are commonly thought to be the two council members most likely to run for mayor in 2011. This, of course, is assuming Goodman actually leaves, as the state’s term limits law currently dictates he must.

•••

The city’s Downtown Cultural Series will continue with a free performance Friday at U.S. District Court in the George Federal Building by a quintet called Brass Roots. The concert will be from noon to 1 p.m. in the Jury Assembly Room.

The quintet is led by Walt Boenig, who played trombone with famed big band orchestra leaders Glenn Miller and Harry James.

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