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October 2, 2014

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Mayor skeptical about NBA ‘contract’ for proposed Strip arena

Goodman says TIF tax proposal not same as public funding

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Oscar Goodman

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman isn't quite buying it — he doesn't think an NBA team has actually inked a contract to come here if a new arena is built on the Las Vegas Strip.

Goodman, who is pushing for an arena in Symphony Park in downtown Las Vegas, expressed his skepticism today about a deal developers are taking to the Clark County Commission to try to woo the county to help finance an arena on the Silver State site that was home to the former Wet 'n Wild water park.

"A written agreement, I would find it incredible, that's number one," Goodman told reporters during his weekly press conference at city hall.

"But I've been wrong before and I would apologize if I'm wrong now. I just don't see it," Goodman said. "I mean, there may be whispers, there may be winks, there may be nods, but I just don't see an agreement."

Beyond that, Goodman backed off on making comments about the specific proposal being made by Chris Milam, CEO of International Development Management LLC, to the county commission.

The Sun reported Wednesday that Milam said "We have an NBA team under contract". However, Milam didn't name the team.

The deal hinges on the county agreeing to issue bonds to pay for the arena, then using tax increment financing to retire the debt on those bonds. However, the county would need to resurrect a county redevelopment district for that to happen.

Goodman said he didn't want his own enthusiasm for an arena to be misused.

"I'm not going to get involved with a discussion with Mr. Milam about that or to give some credence to the fact that Las Vegas is going to be building an arena so that some other city might be able to gain some leverage to have a newer arena built there," Goodman said.

"I've been there, I've done that. I've been doing it for about 10 years now," Goodman said.

"The bottom line is this, and I've said it all along: After I met with (NBA Commissioner) David Stern (two years ago) when we had the All-Star game here, he sat in my office and he said the ball's in my court, 'in Oscar's court,'" Goodman said.

"I said 'What does that mean, commissioner?' He says, 'If you are able to convince the owners that Las Vegas should have a franchise and you have an arena, I'm not going to stand in your way.' That's the first time he ever backed off his position that he did not want a team playing in a city that accepted wagers on sporting events, in particular, basketball."

Since that time, Goodman said he has talked to several NBA owners himself.

"I think they believe Las Vegas is a great venue for an NBA franchise. But until we have an arena, it ain't gonna happen," the mayor said. "And right now, I don't see anybody putting a shovel in the ground, even though I've tried to my utmost to get them to do it. And once that shovel's in the ground, I believe we will have a commitment. But until that takes place, I think it's just talk."

Although Goodman confirmed he had talked to some NBA owners, he would not confirm whether one of them was George Maloof, who owns the Palms Hotel Casino in Las Vegas and whose family also owns the Sacramento Kings.

"I'm not going to say who I talked to, it's not fair," he said. "I don't want people in Sacramento to lose any sleep over it ... I know a lot of the owners and I chat with them. And they're very high on Las Vegas."

Meanwhile, Goodman said the Cordish Company of Baltimore is still continuing to try to work on a plan to redevelop Las Vegas' downtown, using city-owned property to build not only a sports arena, but an entertainment district and new hotel-casino.

Goodman said that project could be funded with tax increment financing because it would be located in the city's own redevelopment district. That type of financing is already being used for several projects, including the World Market and the Ruvo Brain Institute, he said.

"But at this point in time, we're still apart as far as the differential as what a bond would be able to provide versus private funding," Goodman said.

"So, until that shovel turns, I think it's all speculation and I would hate to have the people in Detroit, for instance, lose one moment's sleep at this point in time, in fear that we're going to have an arena built which will take the Pistons away from them."

Goodman was asked by a reporter if Milam's efforts at the Silver State site are successful, what happens to the Cordish Company's study.

He said there actually was a study, which he said he doesn't believe, that showed the area could accommodate two arenas for two different kinds of activities, such as professional hockey or professional basketball.

Goodman said that getting a successful arena project would help him leave office next year completing his goal to make Las Vegas into a world-class city.

"This one is sort of out of my control," he said. "I think I've accomplished getting the NBA to concede that Las Vegas can have a team. And I really believe, with all my heart and soul, that we do need a first-class arena here."

He said the city also needs a new arena to be able to continue to host the National Finals Rodeo events in December and January and to host major fighting events.

Goodman was asked if he thought people who don't like public funding for private projects would be satisfied by TIF funding.

"I don't consider a TIF tax public funding," Goodman said. "That's really a little different. It's an area that isn't doing much that will have vitality. And you just take part of that vitality and use it to retire the debt. That's a good thing. That's what redevelopment is all about ... What other cities have done is they've reached into their pocket and put up the money. That doesn't work.... It has to be a partnership."

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