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October 24, 2014

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Mayor: Without public funding for arena, Las Vegas won’t get NBA team

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Oscar Goodman

Mayor Oscar Goodman says the only way that a new sports arena is going to be built in Las Vegas is through public financing, even though many people don't like the idea.

But without an arena, the city will never get an NBA or NHL team, Goodman said.

And without a modern arena, the city will have trouble keeping events here that prop up the economy between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, such as the National Finals Rodeo, Goodman told reporters at his weekly press conference at City Hall.

Last year, its 10 nights of competition recorded 174,000 in attendance, including an estimated 35,000 out-of-towners, delivering an economic boost of $50 million during an otherwise slow time of the year.

"There are no free lunches," the mayor said, when told it was difficult to find much support for public financing. "With that kind of attitude, that kind of philosophy, we'll never have an arena. End of story.”

"We'll never have a professional team here, end of story. I mean, that's it. We can't make up our own rules. We have to live in the real world. And the real world says that there has to be some kind of public financing," he said. "And if people don't like it, then they can live here without a team. I don't want to live in a city without a team. I think a team makes a city a great city. "

Goodman, who supports building an arena in the downtown's Symphony Park area, said public financing through a bond initiative on the ballot would make the project happen.

Two years ago, Goodman said he met with NBA Commissioner David Stern about getting an NBA team here, Goodman said. Stern told him that UNLV's Thomas & Mack arena was antiquated compared to the newer arenas.

"Las Vegas was always at the cutting edge, always at the forefront," Goodman said. "We were the example-setters. Now we drag our feet."

Goodman said he would try to drum up public support for a bond issue as soon as the city's downtown developer, the Cordish Company, and city redevelopment staff agree on a price tag.

"We go back and forth," he said. "Once we find out what we need, I would like to have a ballot question and let the public decide whether they want to be a world class city or they want to go to Los Angeles."

Goodman said if it was put on the city's ballot, only city residents would vote on it. But if it was a county ballot question, all Clark County voters would decide, he said.

"We're fighting hotel interests," he said. "And they make a very compelling argument. They don't want public money spent on an arena when they have their arenas and they didn't ask for public assistance and why should we put them at an undo competitive advantage."

Goodman didn't have a dollar figure on how far apart city staff and Cordish are on the public/private financing cost of an arena.

"Far," he said.

The county commission looked at several competing sites in April that ranged in cost from $448 million to $750 million. Goodman has said the city should consider a high-end arena to compete for national event.

The high-end, high-tech Cowboy Stadium in Dallas, which has a capacity for 110,000 people, was built for $1.5 billion.

Goodman said to pay for the public bonds issued for such a project, the city could create a tourist improvement district. A certain amount of the sales tax that would be generated in such a district would be used to retire the bonds, he said.

"It would have to be based on a formula of tourists," he said. "I think that's a good way to do it, myself. But once again, that's public financing."

Asked if the city and the county have ever or would ever work together to get an arena, Goodman said little has been done.

He said when the Clark County Commission heard presentations earlier this year on four locations presented for an arena, Bill Arent, the city's director of development, and a Cordish representative made a presentation about the city's hope to get a downtown arena. But it was "very brief," Goodman said.

"For the most part, we never work together," Goodman said. "That's why I want consolidation."

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