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April 17, 2014

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city hall:

City committed to project as Culinary pushes to handicap it

Face to Face: Taj Mahal of City Halls?

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Face to Face: Federal Handout?; Battle for Control

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Mayor Oscar Goodman and other city officials say they’re moving forward with their grand plans for a new city hall – price-tagged between $150 million and $267 million – for several key reasons.

The existing City Hall is more than three decades old and overcrowded, and the building’s mechanical systems are beginning to fall apart, city officials assert.

Perhaps more important, they say a new city hall is vital to the success of redevelopment plans throughout downtown, including the adjacent Union Park, which they expect to bring more than 13,400 new jobs and $4.1 billion in private investment.

Arguing against the plan, the Culinary Union is contending that the project is an overpriced boondoggle reflecting misplaced city priorities. Such money could be better used to fund cash-strapped schools, police and firefighters.

What’s more, the union claims the city is so eager to cement development deals that they’re doing little to ensure that “good” jobs, with decent pay and stable benefits, will come as a result.

While those are the arguments each side is making publicly, it’s becoming increasingly clear that both sides are operating with the belief that their opponents have hidden motives.

Though they’re reluctant to say so publicly, the Culinary believes Goodman is emphatic about the issue because he views it as a legacy project – perhaps even one that will come with his name on the front of the building.

On the other side, the city has charged that the Culinary demanded that the union be represented in any new downtown hotels and casinos. Having failed, the city claims the Culinary is exacting revenge by trying to put the kibosh on the city hall project.

The fight is on, as the Culinary last Thursday turned in more than 14,000 petition signatures to the city clerk’s office in support of two ballot measures. One could stop the city hall project by requiring voter approval of “lease-purchase” construction projects, and the other would reign in the city’s redevelopment agency.

Scott Adams, director of the city’s Office of Business Development, referred on a recent interview on KNPR’s “State of Nevada” program to what he said was the “true motive” of the Culinary: to do what it could to ensure that new hotels and casinos downtown were properly unionized.

“They are using the veil of the public trust as a motive to get these projects organized,” Adams said. “That’s the real motive here.”

Adams also defended the redevelopment agency. He said it has in the last five years tripled tax revenues downtown, created 9,000 construction jobs and 7,500 additional permanent jobs.

Chris Bohner, the Culinary’s research director, responded on the program by saying that the issue is larger than a new city hall — the municipality needs to do more to ensure that future employees in the city were protected.

“I think we’ve made it abundantly clear that this is an issue that transcends any one project,” Bohner said.

The city’s proposal includes a roughly 300,000-square-foot city hall at First Street and Clark Avenue. That seven-story building would be part of a new office complex. Completion of new city hall would also allow the developer Forest City Enterprises to build a casino/hotel on Union Park land that the city traded for the city hall site.

Goodman says the city hall project is vital because it’s a lynchpin for further redevelopment – meaning new jobs.

At a Jan. 21 City Council meeting, Goodman lambasted Juanita Clark of the Charleston Neighborhood Preservation group when she raised concerns about the project.

“It’s going to revitalize downtown. It’s going to create tons of construction jobs,” which will be needed after CityCenter is complete, he said.

“And then after that, it’s going to have 13,441 permanent jobs at a time when people are losing their jobs, they’re in soup lines almost,” Goodman said. “And people are objecting to this? Smart lady, I don’t understand it.”

The Culinary maintains its protest is principled.

The development plan, union officials say, is fiscally irresponsible, especially at a time when the city faces a $150 million deficit over the next five years and has announced cuts to public services.

“We have a large obligation to members of our union who are also taxpayers,” said Pilar Weiss, a Culinary spokeswoman. “We have fought hard for the Las Vegas dream. Part of that is living in a community where your kid’s school is good, where if something happens there’s a public safety response and, in an economic downturn, there’s a social safety net.”

Weiss said the union sent a letter and sample organizing agreement to the developer last year but did so as a matter of standard practice.

Goodman and Culinary leader D. Taylor met several weeks ago, at which time Taylor reportedly handed Goodman a list of proposed changes to the Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency. According to Weiss, it was a “brainstorm list” of possible changes to the agency.

The changes include creating a citizens advisory committee to the agency; ensuring that subsidies to developers create “good paying jobs” with health insurance; and that a labor “peace ordinance” be enacted, which would mandate that the developer and the union come to agreement before all future such developments could proceed.

The union says the city is neglecting to use leverage that other cities have used to guarantee quality of life for workers, including demanding so-called “community benefits agreements” from developers.

Weiss said the Las Vegas mayor requested the sit-down – a claim a city spokesman could not confirm – at which Taylor detailed the union’s concerns. Many of the reforms, she said, are being considered by redevelopment authorities across the country.

It’s unclear if Goodman and Taylor have any plans to meet again in the near future.

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