Las Vegas Sun

April 17, 2014

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ANSWERS CLARK COUNTY:

Are liquor sales set to take off at McCarran?

Fly into town, get your luggage, grab some hooch and head to your hotel.

Except for the hooch, that accurately describes the first leg of many a tourist’s current journey to Las Vegas.

After Tuesday’s Clark County Commission meeting, you may be able to add hooch to that itinerary because one lucky purveyor of booze will earn the right to operate what is likely to become a lucrative liquor outlet at McCarran International Airport.

Any idea who that bottled business owner might be?

Months ago, the airport put out a request for proposals. Three were made and one will likely be picked by commissioners. The three are: Lee’s Runway Liquor, whose CEO is Hae Un Lee; Liquor Library LLC, with manager/member Richard Worthington; and Binna LLC, managing member Amer Ramo.

A five-person airport evaluation team looked at the proposals using nine criteria, including their financial proposal and the applicants’ financial stability, liquor store experience and operating plan. Proposals were rated and Lee’s Runway Liquor collected the most points, with 85.8 of a possible 100. That compared with 81 for the Liquor Library and 52.8 for Binna.

After bonus points — given for having a package liquor store license, five to 10 years’ experience operating with that license or being a small-business operator — Lee’s had 94.6 points, Liquor Library had 84.4 and Binna had 63.4.

So does Lee’s Runway Liquor get the store?

The evaluation committee is recommending Lee’s, but it is up to the commissioners to decide.

In February, one commissioner expressed doubts about opening a liquor store at the airport, regardless of who was operating it, arguing the store would provide little benefit to the community. The airport countered that a thriving business provides needed revenue for self-funded McCarran, which helps hold down landing fees for airlines.

Whoever lands the so-called bags ’n’ booze store will not only become part of the Vegas partying lore, but also airport history. Outside duty-free stores that sell liquor in airports, county officials think no U.S. airport leases space in or near a baggage claim area to a liquor store. The airport wants to locate the store next to the escalators leading from the D gates to the baggage claim area.

The store won’t be huge, so sources say an idea had been floated that would have allowed tourists to order liquor at the store and have it delivered to their hotel room if the store didn’t have their desired beverage in stock. Is that true?

That’s what we hear. We also hear the powerful hotel operators on the Strip don’t like that idea, in part because it would cut into their business. For whatever reason, a delivery service is not expected to be part of the airport liquor store’s operations. But no decision will be final until commissioners vote.

•••

Expect tough questions to be asked of Dr. Lawrence Sands, chief health officer of the Southern Nevada Health District, at Tuesday’s meeting.

Why is that?

Although thousands of county employees have made salary concessions, and hundreds have lost their jobs in the recession, most of the Health District’s 526 employees are enjoying salary increases this year. On top of that, Health District fees for some immunizations are increasing.

County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who requested that Sands address the commission, wonders how the Health District can afford those salaries in years to come if the economy continues to languish.

Steve Sisolak

Steve Sisolak

In an e-mail exchange between Sands and Sisolak obtained by the Sun, the commissioner asks: “Are business license revenues increasing because of higher Health District fees or more licenses? What is the district’s projected revenue for future years? And if reserve funds are helping to pay the district’s wages and benefits now, how will those wages be paid in the future when those reserves are depleted?”

“I just have a lot of questions about what’s going on over there,” Sisolak said.

A look at the Health District prompted Sisolak to ask county staff to evaluate salaries and compensation for other quasi-county agencies — which may or may not get county tax dollars but are connected to county government — such as the airport, the Regional Transportation Commission and others.

Clark County, for instance, will give $20 million this year to the Health District, which is overseen by a board that includes members from other jurisdictions and private citizens.

County staff expects to have a report on the other agencies in August.

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