LAS VEGAS SUN
Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
McCarran International Airport officials are proposing a new way to shore up its sagging bottom line: a liquor store in the baggage claim area.
It would be a nod to efficiency for a facility that serves millions disembarking for an alcohol-fueled weekend in Vegas — grab the bags, grab the booze.
Although it would certainly appeal to partyers, it means something entirely different to one Clark County commissioner.
“Oh, I know it will be a gold mine for some liquor store, but does this mean we’ll do anything for money?” said Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who promises to ask many questions about the proposal during today’s County Commission meeting. “What’s next? Airport strip clubs? Topless bars? Is that appropriate for county property? I mean, that’s ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking, too.”
The airport is asking for approval to seek bids for a baggage claim liquor concession. Bidding would be limited to companies with at least three years experience.
Although shops sell duty-free liquor at McCarran, a baggage claim liquor store would appear to be a first, for here and the United States. McCarran officials know of no other U.S. airport selling liquor at baggage claim.
“We’re strapped for cash just like every other county department, and because of the smoking ban our gaming revenue has gone down and advertising has been a little slow,” said Elaine Sanchez, airport spokeswoman. “We believe, in hard times, this is a good idea.”
In speaking with cab and limo companies, airport staff learned “it’s not unusual for their clients to ask to stop at a liquor store or 7-Eleven” as soon as they leave McCarran, said Rosemary Vassiliadis, Clark County Aviation deputy director.
After checking with the county’s attorneys and business licensing officials, airport staff determined “it’s a concession, it’s legal and there are no restrictions or prohibitions,” Vassiliadis said.
McCarran is operated through an “enterprise fund,” meaning the revenue it collects, and not taxpayer dollars, pays its operation costs. Concessions at the airport typically operate under contracts that guarantee minimum annual payments to the airport, a percentage of their revenue or a combination of the two. Within the past year, the airport has had to renegotiate some of these contracts because of the recession.
A liquor store could provide a boost to that sliding revenue, officials said. They would like to place the store next to the escalators that lead from the D gates to baggage claim.
Sisolak said the placement of the store could encourage public drunkenness. “What if a guy buys a six-pack? Can he sit down there and drink while waiting for his luggage?” he said.
But lobbyist and attorney Chris Kaempfer, whose clients include Lee’s Discount Liquor, a Las Vegas chain that would likely be interested in vying for the McCarran store, said he expects few objections.
“It’s difficult to see who would object,” he said. “Somebody who is going to buy liquor before they check in ... is going to do it whether it’s at the airport or the hotel.
“I don’t think you’re causing a problem; you’re allowing the airport to get the revenue that would get dispersed somewhere else.”
Sisolak, however, thinks taxpayers would get no added benefit from having the liquor store at the airport. Any lease revenue would go to the airport instead of the county’s general fund.
But Vassiliadis said that by taking in more revenue, McCarran can hold down landing fees for airlines. Being a low-cost airport encourages travel, which helps draw visitors who contribute to the local economy and its tax base.
“We also employ 18,000 people,” she said. “The airport is an absolute part of the whole economic being of Clark County.”
Last year, Sisolak ardently opposed the so-called “strippermobile” — a truck that carried a glass enclosure in which strippers performed for passing motorists and pedestrians — which its operators argued was a good way to draw business to strip clubs. At the time, Sisolak said his opposition was not based on moral objections but rather the safety of the strippers as well as distracted drivers.
He gained the support of other commissioners, and the strip club parked the truck before it became a bigger issue.
This time, he’s not sure he has any support from his colleagues.
Calls to other commissioners were not returned.
“Maybe I think it’s an issue, and nobody else does,” he said. “I’ve drank a lot in airports, but that’s in a bar. I’ve never seen or heard of anything like this.”