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Goodman: 20,000-seat downtown arena could lure NBA team

Mayor also not ruling out a dual-use facility that would include professional hockey

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Dave Toplikar

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman responded to questions from the media in April at City Hall about the latest efforts to build a sports arena as part of a larger development plan to help revitalize the city’s downtown.

Updated Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009 | 4:55 p.m.

Las Vegas could be moving down the court a little faster on a 20,000-seat downtown sports arena.

That's what Mayor Oscar Goodman said today at his weekly press conference, following up on his plans to have the Las Vegas City Council next week look at an exclusive contract with The Cordish Companies to start planning it out.

"These are serious people. These are not people who are operating on a wing and a prayer," Goodman said. "Cordish has a proven track record. They don't have time to play games."

The contract would allow Cordish, a commercial real estate developer based in Baltimore, to have exclusive rights to study the feasibility of the project, which would encompass 18 acres, including the City Hall campus and 12 acres to the east.

For the past several years, the city had dealt with developer REI Neon at putting together a financing package for a downtown arena/hotel-casino/entertainment development project.

But "that would have been a miracle for that deal to have ever gotten legs and taken off," Goodman said.

The mayor said he and his office have been dealing with Cordish for several years, almost on a daily basis.

"They're taking this very seriously ... I don't think they would be wasting their time unless they were very, very serious," Goodman said.

The company had put off working on the downtown arena project because it was dealing with developments in other cities, Goodman said. Those include The Walk in Atlantic City, Ballpark Village in St. Louis and the Power and Light District in Kansas City, Mo.

"They always said that they loved Vegas, they love the idea of the entertainment complex, the arena and a hotel on the site where we are now at city hall," he said.

He said the economy will be a factor in creating the project. And he said how the NBA does financially this year will also have an effect.

The company will have to put up some money to study the feasibility of the project, he said.

"I just don't think they would sign this paper unless they felt very, very seriously that this is the right place to be," he said. "The question is whether or not everything is going to pencil out."

Goodman said he had worked hard to get NBA officials and owners interested in the arena.

"I believe as soon as we have an arena — this is my belief, I have nothing that is signed in blood, there's no contract — but I believe we'll have a team," he said.

The mayor also said he was not ruling out a professional hockey team coming to town to play in the arena either.

"I don't know anything about hockey. I'm learning rugby now," he said, laughing. "I love basketball. So I thought about basketball. Whatever the market is gonna be, it's gonna be. There are a lot of great hockey fans here. The truth of the matter is that in many of these arenas they have both. ... I would hope they would have both because I think our constituents are entitled to both."

Basketball has moved along more quickly than hockey, he said. However, he said NHL commissioner Gary Bettam, who was in Las Vegas a few months ago, "is high on Las Vegas." Bettam has expressed no problems with locating a team here, where there is also sports betting, Goodman said. David Stern, the NBA's commissioner, initially had a lot of problems with sports betting here, but he has ceded them to the team owners, who have no problems with it, Goodman said.

Building the arena would mean that a somewhat controversial project -- the construction of a new city hall -- would have to be approved by the Las Vegas City Council.

"If this site isn't vacant, I don't think there's a deal," Goodman said. But he said he saw no reason why the $145 million project wouldn't be built, particularly since the federal Building America Bonds became available for it.

The mayor said he's pushing for the arena/hotel-casino/entertainment district project, number one, as a way to get jobs for the community. He's also pushing for it as a way to revitalize the downtown. Cordish's projects in both Louisville and Kansas City have revitalized those formerly two dead downtowns with vibrant, energetic live entertainment districts, he said.

"My friend, the mayor of Louisville, said they're just giving Cordish as much land as Cordish will take," Goodman said. "Then to have an arena, then takes us, in my opinion, into being a world-class city."

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